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Lake Bluff book store damaged during fast moving storm

The storm that moved rapidly through the county Tuesday night severely damaged Bernie’s Book Bank’s Lake Bluff warehouse, shearing off part of its roof due to high winds.

Nearly 50,000 books planned to be distributed free to at-risk Chicagoland students were exposed to rainwater and weather debris.

Staff and volunteers tried to contain the damage while saving as many children’s books as possible. The facility reopened Thursday after stock losses and structural concerns were assessed.

“It’s the start of the school year and 300,000 kids are counting on us to provide free books,” said Kristen Daniels, executive director of the book bank. “We are devastated that the children’s books were lost, but with over a million books on site, we are relieved that the damage was quickly contained and no one was injured.”

The book bank is actively seeking donations to replace materials that have been destroyed and become unusable. The society organizes book distribution points and monetary donations are also sought through its website (www.berniesbookbank.org).

“The Bernie’s Book Bank team is working hard to assess the potential loss of more than 50,000 books impacted by storm damage,” said Darrin Utynek, the organization’s CEO. “This is an unfortunate setback, but our trucks will continue delivering books to Chicagoland children and creating pathways to success through book ownership.”

The nonprofit was founded in 2009 and operates a 35,000-square-foot facility at 917 North Shore Drive. Their aim is to increase literacy scores and ensure book ownership. A child is given eight age-appropriate books each year from birth to sixth grade. Inventory is accumulated through book donors, investors, and publishers.

The bank has distributed more than 24.5 million books since its founding. This year, they are serving more than 1,200 under-resourced schools and early childhood programs in communities in Lake, Cook, McHenry, DuPage and Will counties.

The operation began in the garage of Brian Floriani, a reading specialist at Zion’s Shiloh Park Elementary School. He tutored struggling readers and wanted to bring books home. The book bank was named after his father, who valued education.

In July 2017, they built a pyramid of 144,000 books in their warehouse to draw attention to the literacy problem. The structure, which was certified as the largest structure of its kind by the Guinness Book of World Records, was registered as the largest structure of its kind.

Bernie's Book Exchange was certified for building the largest book pyramid by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2017.

“It raised awareness,” said Sarna Goldberg, the bank’s marketing manager. “This was a community-building effort and a calling card to collect more books for at-risk children in Lake and Cook counties.”

For now, the focus is on cleaning up the damage, organizing and collecting more donations, as well as getting the books where they are needed.

“We are grateful for the community’s support and look forward to welcoming our volunteers back very soon,” Daniels said.

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