AFT, First Book, and Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation Partner to Provide Targeted Relief to Educators and Kids Affected by Hurricane Harvey

Initiative is part of newly-launched ‘Essentials for Kids’ nationwide effort to provide books, supplies, and basic needs items to help alleviate serious public school underfunding

WASHINGTON (September 6, 2017)—The American Federation of Teachers, First Book, and the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation today launched a targeted effort to deliver brand-new books and basic needs items, in coordination with first responders, educators, and volunteers, to areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The partners simultaneously announced the Essentials for Kids Fund, a national initiative aimed at addressing the need for books, educational resources, and basic needs items for educators and their students in districts where the public schools are severely underfunded.

The Essentials for Kids Fund is currently seeded with $200,000, including $75,000 from the AFT and $75,000 from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, with additional funding from Coca-Cola and individual donors. The AFT has set aside $25,000 of its contribution specifically for Harvey-affected educators, and 100 percent of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation’s contribution will be designated to help rebuild classroom libraries and provide other resources for Houston-area educators affected by the hurricane. The fund is actively accepting donations, and has included an option for crowdfunding campaigns to support specific areas. Crowdfunding efforts are already underway by AFT affiliates in Baltimore; Toledo, Ohio; and Socorro, Texas; and by First Book supporters in Charlotte, N.C. The partners are also continuing to monitor Hurricane Irma and will be prepared to meet the needs of others affected by disaster.

“A union is a family, and we are doing what we can to help educators and students deal with the impact of Hurricane Harvey. That includes supporting them through the long process of rebuilding, and starts with restocking their schools and classrooms,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten. “We’re also stepping up to help educators across the country who dig into their own wallets to make sure their classrooms are stocked with basics and their students have a warm jacket, school supplies, food or even basic hygiene products like shampoo. The Essentials for Kids Fund offers direct help to educators serving kids in need, and 100 percent of the funds raised will go to providing educators what they need to teach and kids what they need to learn.”

With 35 states still spending less on public education than before the recession, educators spend an average of $600 a year of their own money to make up for inadequate public school funding to ensure their students have access to necessary learning materials.

“We can’t allow our teachers to have to beg for handouts or permit the staggering loss of potential that results when students don’t have what they need for learning,” said Kyle Zimmer, First Book president, CEO, and co-founder. “This fund will provide critical funding support for schools and programs serving children in need, as well as helping to replace books and supplies in areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey.”

“Opening schools for the hundreds of thousands of children affected by this disaster is vitally important for families to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives,” said Dr. Julie Baker Finck, president of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. “It is imperative that our educators have the books and resources in their classrooms to support academic success and aid in the socio-emotional well-being of children following this catastrophic event.”

Educators can access the fund at various levels:

  • AFT members serving Title I or Title I-eligible schools or programs can receive grants of up to $150 to spend on the First Book Marketplace, which offers such items as brand-new high-quality books, hygiene kits, sports equipment, and clothing, at 50 to 90 percent below retail prices.
  • Non-AFT educators can receive grants of up to $100. Grants will be available on a first-come, first-served basis until the fund is depleted.
  • Educators affected by Harvey can receive up to $200 in First Book Marketplace credits until the fund is depleted.
  • All educators are eligible for funds if 70 percent or more of the kids they serve are from low-income communities or are affected by Hurricane Harvey. If not already members of the First Book network, educators must complete the free registration at

Donations to the fund and additional crowdsourced campaigns are being accepted at and

Educators have already sprung into action to help students and schools cope with the impact of Harvey. In Corpus Christi, Texas, union members recently delivered backpacks filled with folders, pens, pencils, scissors and other school supply essentials.


About AFT

The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.

About First Book

First Book transforms the lives of children in need. Through a sustainable, market-driven model, First Book is creating equal access to quality education—making everything from brand-new, high-quality books and educational resources, to sports equipment, winter coats, snacks, and more—affordable to its member network of more than 325,000 educators who exclusively serve kids in need. Since 1992, First Book has distributed more than 170 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families in more than 30 countries. First Book currently reaches an average of 3 million children every year and supports more than one in four of the estimated 1.3 million classrooms and programs serving children in need. With an additional 1,000 educators joining each week, First Book is the largest and fastest-growing network of educators in North America exclusively serving kids in need.

Eligible educators, librarians, providers, and others serving children in need can sign up at For more information, please visit or follow the latest news on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation

The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, co-chaired by Neil and Maria Bush, was established as a charitable organization focused on improving the quality of life for Houston residents through the power of literacy. The Foundation advocates for literacy as a fundamental right of everyone and a foundational skill towards success in life. It is founded on the belief held by Former First Lady Barbara Bush, “If you help a person to read, then their opportunities in life will be endless.” In 2013, the Bush Family created the Houston-based foundation separate from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, a national foundation, in response to the need to deepen the awareness of and intensify services and support for the nation’s fourth largest and most diverse city—Houston. To learn more about, please visit To find volunteer opportunities please visit the Foundation’s volunteer platform at

Media Contacts:

Connect with our media team or download our media kit via the First Book Press Room.

Marcus Mrowka, AFT

Christine Garella, DPWPR