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Gift of books helps school turn page on arson losses

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Khadiga Al-Jabri reads to Lena Balaa and Zachary Sayed after Books 4 Buddies donated materials to replace those lost in a recent arson at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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Books 4 Buddies found grateful readers at the Islamic School of Greater Toledo when the organization donated about 500 books to the school Monday afternoon.

“Take as many as you want,” Books 4 Buddies ambassador Brandon Jackson, a senior at Toledo's Rogers High School, told the 18 young children seated on the floor of Manal El-Sheikh's classroom. “Can we take a whole bucket?” one child asked.

“I know they lost a lot,” said ambassador Jesus Avila, a first-year student at Whitmer High School in Toledo.

The two Books 4 Buddies ambassadors were at the Islamic school's temporary quarters, the Owens Community College campus at the Arrowhead Park Learning Center in Maumee, along with the organization's president, Laneta Goings—who is the grandmother of 14-year-old Books 4 Buddies founder Toure McCord. Two adult advisers were also there: Richard Jackson, a retired Toledo Public Schools superintendent and Brandon's grandfather, and Sheriff-elect John Tharp.

The Islamic School lost more than 1,000 books when the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, the Perrysburg mosque where the school was located, was set fire Sept. 30 and the classrooms and contents were damaged by smoke and water.

Authorities say the blaze was intentionally set, and arrested Randolph Linn, 52, of St. Joe, Ind. He has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court, Toledo, to federal charges of intentionally defacing, damaging, and destroying religious real property and using fire to commit a federal felony. He is in custody in the Lucas County jail pending the outcome of the case.

The loss “really tugged at our heartstrings,” Ms. Goings said. So Books 4 Buddies gave the school some of the more than 11,000 books the organization has collected since its founding earlier this year.

The gift "shows the students and faculty there is love and empathy for us and not just hate,” Islamic School of Greater Toledo principal Fadia Abouelaila said. “It shows the children there are people who do care for us and love us. It's a great message.”

Books 4 Buddies, based in Holland, is a literacy initiative that gives donated books to disadvantaged and/or underprivileged youth, primarily boys. The books are leisure reading materials that are “donated from the community, age and content appropriate, not tattered or torn,” Goings said.

The Blade is among the corporate partners of the Books 4 Buddies initiative. Other partners include the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, Toledo Public Schools, WTVG 13, Cumulus Radio, Cedar Creek Church, and the Toledo chapter of the NAACP.

Contact TK Barger at: tbarger@theblade.com or 419-724-6278.  

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