Utah boasts one of the country’s highest literacy rates and a respectable array of public reading programs, from after-school mentoring initiatives to storytelling events. But what if it’s summer, and you can’t get to the local library?
That’s what people are wondering this week as the tale of one little boy in suburban Salt Lake City went viral when 12-year-old Mathew Flores asked his mailman if he had any junk mail for him to read.
Mathew didn’t have any books at home, and he was fishing through a junk mail bin for newspapers and ads to read, according to Deseret News. When the postal worker told him there were books at the library, he said he couldn’t afford to take the bus there.
The mailman, Ron Lynch, posted a photo of Mathew to Facebook, along with an appeal to his friends. “He told me his wish is to have books to read,” he wrote. “So ... let's get this 12 year old some books! Let's help him. I was given many books as a child, and it's time to help someone else!”
In a matter of days, Mathew had received more than 500 books, reported Fox News.
The response has been “overwhelming,” wrote Mr. Lynch. “I'm thrilled his needs are being met. You're all angels!”
By the time Lynch stopped by to drop off his first load of books at Mathew's house, donations had already arrived, according to USA Today.
“They said, ‘These books are for you,’” Mathew told the Deseret News on Sunday. "I thought they were mistaken, but they were for me.”
Bob Ostler, who said he is a UPS deliveryman to Mathew’s home, also expressed his admiration on Lynch’s Facebook page. “It is amazing to see the stacks of boxes in my truck every day,” he wrote, posting a picture of packages piled high. “You deserve a lot of credit for seeing a need and making a difference.”
Mathew’s story shines a light on what The Daily Herald has called “a looming crisis” in Utah.
Nationally, the state enjoys one of the highest literacy rates, with more than 92 percent of adults able to read a newspaper, according to the latest figures from the National Center for Education. But children – especially in low-income situations like Mathew’s – aren’t getting the support they need, reported the Herald’s Genelle Pugmire in a series on child literacy in Utah County.
Over the summer in particular, low-income students lose more than two months in reading achievement, according to the National Summer Learning Association.
One initiative that could prove helpful is a neighborhood reading program, which was started by educational nonprofit United Way in Utah County and encourages volunteers to start homework and book clubs.
In other parts of the country, organizations have also brought tubs of books straight to apartment complexes like Mathew’s for children to pick from.
Mathew has said that he plans on reading every book. His favorite story so far? “Captain Underpants.” Afterward, the little boy plans to donate them – something the mailman is also encouraging Americans to do throughout their own communities.
“If it weren’t for him I probably wouldn’t have any books right now," he told Fox News. “I'm just super happy.”