Thousands of books donated in Harford for Oklahoma tornado victims

Thousands of books have been donated over the past several weeks at the Maryland State Police Bel Air Barrack that will be given to school libraries in Moore, Okla., that was devastated by a tornado last spring.

A fourth-grader, who loves to read and is the daughter of a state trooper, has teamed up with two Maryland Troopers Association lodges, the State Police and United Parcel Service of America to stuff a UPS truck trailer with books to restock the shelves at several schools damaged by the tornado on May 20.

Last weekend, the Bel Air Barrack served as collection site for Operation Stuff A Truck. Donations continued to pour in on Monday and Tuesday and were still being received Wednesday. The books are being placed in a UPS trailer for shipment west, courtesy of UPS.

Lauren DeCourcey, 8, an honor roll student at the Tome School in North East, said she was moved to action by the images and news following the EF5 tornado that claimed 23 lives, injured almost 380 others, leveled the Plaza Towers Elementary School and heavily damaged two other schools in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City.

"I heard about the tornado and thought the children didn't have any books," Lauren said Wednesday. "I like to read, and it was really, really sad, because I knew a lot of the books were destroyed. I just decided I would try to help."

She began collecting books following the tornado. At first, she said, she filled five boxes with books, "now there are seven rows of boxes filling up a tractor-trailer truck."

Lauren is the daughter of James and Jane DeCourcey. Her father is a detective sergeant based at the Bel Air Barrack and a native of the Jarrettsville area.

James DeCourcey estimated Wednesday that some 50,000 books have been donated. "We weren't anticipating anything like this; it's really good to see all this support," he said.

He said the donations have kept on coming, from Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston which had started a similar effort, from the Cecil County Public Library and from families, individuals and community organizations. Barnes & Noble in Bel Air donated books, games and puzzles and also provided hundreds of boxes to ship the books. The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepard in Wilmington, Del., gave 65 cases of books.

When news of Lauren's Moore reading relief effort made it to Bel Air Barrack Commander Lt. Matthew Kail, he sought the assistance of United Parcel Service of America Inc. to facilitate getting the books shipped westward. The UPS help is much appreciated, DeCourcey said, because as the donations continued to mount, he and his wife started to wonder how they would get them all to Oklahoma.

Before the first book was collected in May, Jane DeCourcey had contacted officials from Moore Public Schools, who were ecstatic and appreciative of the relief effort. At the same time, Lauren solicited the assistance of Maryland Troopers Association Lodges 15 and 96, which serve Cecil and Harford counties, respectively. Both lodges pledged support and money for the effort.

The Jarrettsville Lions Club, which is promoting reading in the community this year, donated $1,000 for the purchase of books for the drive. Lauren's team of volunteers worked with Barnes & Noble to select books for Moore's school libraries, James DeCourcey said.

Volunteers were on hand at the State Police barrack over the weekend to help with the collections, and Signs by Tomorrow of Aberdeen and the State Highway Administration's Churchville shop helped publicize the effort, James DeCourcey said.

Lauren said she likes books about animals and dinosaurs and said some of the books going west will be about both. According to her mother, Lauren is a fencer and has set a goal of participating in the Olympics, attending The Johns Hopkins University – her father's alma mater – and becoming a wild animal veterinarian.

James DeCourcey said the books will leave the Bel Air Barrack either Thursday or Friday, depending when UPS can do the pickup. Meanwhile, her mother is trying to make arrangements for Lauren to fly to Oklahoma so she can meet some of the young people she is helping with the donations.

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