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Kids had plenty of books to choose at the first annual Family First Optimist Book Fair. (Photo by Chris Frost)
Thursday, September 5, 2019

By Chris Frost


Oxnard—Kids were the big winners at the PAL Centre on Clara Street Aug. 31, as the first-ever free book fair brought hundreds of children to the venue ready to stock up on great reading selections.


Each child received books, enjoyed lunch, and played outside at Southwinds Park.


The event was co-sponsored by Families First and the Oxnard / Port Hueneme Optimist Club that joined forces to make an impact on literacy. 


Carolina Gallardo-Magana is one of the organizers at the book fair and said this is the first one they're having in their neighborhood.


"Each child gets two books," she said. "They get pizza, face painting, and get to listen to a book. This is all sponsored by community members and the Port of Hueneme."


Community members stepped up and donated the books.


"We had a month of reading in Aug. from 6-7 p.m. on Monday through Thursday," she said. "This is the closing of Aug. with the book fair."


Gallardo-Magana loves organizing the book fair.


"They are our future, and we must take care of them," she said.


Brenda loves seeing all the books at the fair, and she bugged her mother until she took her.


"I like books," she said. "I already have two.  


Rosa planned to grab her two books.


"I came to help," she said. "I am going to eat pizza after this. My friends are here too."


Lucy Cartagena from Family First came dressed as "The Cat in the Hat" and decided to expand the reading program that reads to kids in low-income neighborhoods.


"The thought process behind the outfit was to raise literacy and connect the reading to the outfit," she said. "I read all the time during our literacy campaign."


She loves reading to the children.


"We decided to start with the Southwinds Neighborhood," she said. "We've been having storytelling every day for Aug., and we had Chingon Bakery donate bread every day after the reading."


She is grateful to the Oxnard/Port Hueneme Optimist Club for building their first free library.


"We connected with them, and they were the ones who got half of these books," she said. "We've been working with them because that is part of their creed."


Cartagena feels passionate about reading to the kids in Oxnard and believes that if you can raise the reading literacy in Oxnard, you can increase the bar.


"We are trying to stop the school to prison pipeline," she said. "We know 60 percent of all prison inmates are illiterate. Reading is a great thing."


Board Member Jeff Burum from the Oxnard/Port Hueneme Optimist Club chartered the club, and they got involved with the book fair when Lucy Cartagena from Family First approached them about mobile book depositories in places where there are at-risk children.


"The kids need to read before they're in the fourth grade," he said. "I like to talk with the kids, say hi, and put their fingerprints on the mobile book library. We're trying to help other non-profit clubs build up our community. We care about the kids, their future, and we care about our future."


He loves how Cartagena was dressed as "The Cat in the Hat."


"I love "The Cat in the Hat," Burum said. "It brings back some wonderful memories for me."


He is planning an exploratory campaign for County Supervisor to replace John Zaragoza.


"I am exactly the right person because I am a retired veteran, a CPA, a tax accountant with my own business, and my educational background is extensive."


His son Alex Burum was handing out books and supporting the Optimist Club with 11 other members.


"We brought turtles for the kids," he said. "Christine Martin is from the reptile family and also a member of the Optimist Club."


The club brought in about 20 boxes of books for the kids.


"We have reading groups from pre-k to adult books," Alex said. "I love giving back to the community and representing optimism."


He loves seeing the kids read.


"It's about education and reading in a bilingual fashion in Oxnard," he said. "That's what it's all about."


Hugo Alaniz from Chingon Bakery was proud to step up and donate the bread to the event.


"About a month ago, I was at the Port meeting, and we heard about how they needed help feeding the kids during the nighttime," he said. "A lot of parents are at work, and they are not getting the right guidance. We got with the program, and we started, little by little, and when I came inside for the first time, we decided to keep ongoing. It's been a great hit for the community. We needed this." 


Miguel Rodriguez, from the Port of Hueneme, was proud to be part of the book fair.


"We came up with some funds to pay for the pizza and sponsor some food," he said. "We are giving out invitations to the Banana Festival, activity books and information about the port."


The port wants to promote literacy in an area that has been marginalized.


"In a working-class community, we don't have the resources to promote education and social equity," he said. "This is important because the community is coming out, taking advantage of books, which will eventually impact their future."


Martin brought a half leopard tortoise and half sulcata tortoise named Shamus that the kids enjoyed immensely.


"The first animal I ever had a connection with was a tortoise," she said. "My company does wildlife education, and they are all safe to touch and hold, our bugs, frogs, reptiles, and snakes. We replace fear with facts." 

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