Kiwanis ‘n Cops ‘n Kids program comes to Marshfield
For the Hub City Times
MARSHFIELD – When retired police officer Julia Witherspoon responded to a burglary in 1997, she began a movement in Racine that has spread internationally, and is now arriving in Marshfield. At the burglary scene, she found a warehouse filled with children’s books. She soon realized that all those books could help disadvantaged youngsters improve their lives. That’s why she started the original Cops ‘N Kids reading program.
Fast forward to 2020, when COVID challenged the ability of service clubs to serve as they have in the past. Kiwanis International’s Wisconsin-Upper Michigan District responded by creating the organization’s own program: Kiwanis ‘n Cops ‘n Kids. It seeks to help local clubs provide a safe, socially-distanced way to fulfill their mission of serving the children of their communities. The goal: “Getting free books into the hands and homes of kids, while also building connection and trust in the community.”
Former Kiwanis District Governor Roger Krogstad, of Marshfield, has been working with the district’s effort for some time. “We have a donation of about 120 new books from Toys for Tots,” among some optimistic goals for his home club’s project.
At a recent kick-off event for Kiwanians, club members were encouraged to purchase new books through an online book fair that Immanuel Lutheran School held through April 22, benefiting both the school and the new Kiwanis program.
Krogstad also says the community’s help is needed. The club has arranged a drop-off site in the lobby of the Marshfield Police Department, 110 W. First Street, where people can donate both new and gently-read books for young children and teens from age 2 through 12th grade. Police/School Resource officers Matt Berres and Julie Leu-Martinek attended the kickoff and said they expected that officers will read to youngsters.
However, the initial focus is on serving about 330 children in the Marshfield Area United Way’s Nutrition on Weekends (NOW) program. The initial plan is to include new books with the meals that NOW distributes. Krogstad says book donations are needed quickly, so NOW can distribute the first books by the end of the school year. Another goal is to distribute books to those youngsters up to four times a year.
“I support every aspect of this program,” said Ali Luedtke, NOW’s administrator.
In addition, Krogstad says a mini-library will be created within the next few weeks at downtown Marshfield’s Wenzel Family Plaza. The plan is for the library to receive donations soon after the distribution to the NOW children begins.
Racine’s Witherspoon, who started the international program, estimates that it has distributed more than three million children’s books since the late 1990s. She says it’s natural that Kiwanis would embrace it. The organization’s current district governor, Jean Long Manteufel, has made it a major priority, and former Green Bay Packers’ All-Pro safety Leroy Butler is a leading spokesperson for Kiwanis ‘n Cops ‘n Kids.
As a police officer, Witherspoon said she served disadvantaged children every day.
“If we can get these kids to read,” she said, “They’ll do their school work and crime goes down.”