Books change the lives of children. The power of that idea is on display this week in an effort to give out hundreds of thousands of books – more than 47,000 of them to Eastern Jackson County youths – at nearly no cost.

“And kids, I think, are just innately hungry to read and to learn,” said Doug Cowan, executive director of the Community Services League, where 24,000 of those books are headed.

The event is a distribution of 570,000 books through First Book, a group based in Washington, D.C., that has given away more than 130 million books since its founding in 1992. The books are for those 18 and younger.

“We were full from wall to wall, top to bottom, with books,” Alan Olson, construction superintendent at Metropolitan Community Colleges, said Tuesday in the warehouse at the MCC Pioneer Campus in Kansas City.

From Kansas City, the books are distributed only for the price of shipping – 45 to 70 cents a book – or free if the recipients are close enough to drive to the warehouse and get them.

“Other than the gas to take our truck down there, this is as free as free can be,” Cowan said.

At least 10 schools in the Independence and Fort Osage school districts are getting books, including 2,000 books for Buckner Elementary, 1,190 for Little Blue Elementary and 2,188 for Fairmount Elementary. Tabitha’s Closet, which provides clothing to those in need, is getting 2,860.

The books include more than 90 titles, including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Maze Runner,” “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” “Olivia Claus” and “The Big Book of Ninja Turtles.”

“These are great, kind of fun books for kids,” said Shannon Burke-Kransberg, senior manager of national engagement at First Book.

Raul Lopez Gomez works in elementary schools with the Local Investment Commission, or LINC, in Independence, one of the group’s involved in this week’s effort. He said the students enjoy getting the books.

“They love it. ... They love the books here,” he said.

The goal is to help children read and learn, said Burke-Kransberg.

“It’s books, but it’s also anything that’s going to elevate the education of children in need,” she said.

Burke-Kransberg and others have spent several days unloading boxes of books and getting ready for local recipients to pick them up starting today. Volunteers from LINC, UMB Bank and elsewhere have helped.

“And they have been amazing this week,” she said. “The warehouse guys have been great.”

For tax reasons, publishers have an incentive not to keep large inventories of books on hand. Sometimes an earlier edition of a book is phased out. For whatever reason, Burke-Kransberg said, they periodically have books they want to give away.

“We are affecting their bottom line, so it’s a win for all of us,” she said.

Turn the Page KC stresses a key marker used by educators to predict a child’s eventual success: Is she reading at grade level by the third grade? In Kansas City, the group says, more than half are not, and Executive Director MIke English said that correlates strongly to socio-economic factors.

So a group such as First Book helps.

“We’re most interested in doing this to get books in the hands of low-income families,” he said.

Burke-Kransberg underlined that point.

“Kids who don’t read aren’t going to become adults who read,” she said.

Cowan said the Community Services League served families with 5,000 children last year, so the donation equates to about five books per child. They’ll be distributed at the group’s food pantries and at events such as the Christmas stores held at its various Eastern Jackson County sites.

Cowan noted the books do good for children, who light up when they get one.

“They get so excited when it’s theirs to take home,” he said.