The Bendigo Book Box program has been recognised internationally for the work it does promoting literacy to young children.
The initiative between Communities for Children, Bendigo Health and Bendigo Kiwanis Club started in 2015 and allows children to take a book, bring it home, and then swap or return the book for free.
Kiwanis International, an organisation dedicated to helping children in more than 80 countries, has recognised the Bendigo initiative as one of its top 10 projects for 2019.
"We didn't realise that it would be so big," Bendigo Kiwanis Club's Brian Pedretti said. "We're running off our feet. It's gone from being a gradual build to going gangbusters."
There are more than 70 book boxes around Bendigo. They can be found at places like doctors' waiting rooms, hairdressers, primary schools, and public places around the city.
There are also dozens of book boxes in Heathcote and Castlemaine, while Shepparton and Echuca are also looking to implement the program.
"It started quite a few years ago with Bendigo Communities for Children," Bendigo Health Director of Aboriginal Services, Diversity and Health Promotion Andy Sloane said.
"We started conversations on how to give books to disadvantaged children and families, and we started putting little libraries in waiting rooms and other businesses.
"Then there was the fantastic idea about reading to children, sharing the book and passing it on."
Bendigo Communities for Children project manager Melissa Rockes said the community has embraced the initiative wholeheartedly.
"Other places around Australia have a similar program but our approach has been quite unique because it's been a great collaboration between organisations," she said.
"There are a lot of families who either don't have access or limited access to books. There are libraries of course but there is the stress around having to return the book.
"With the book box libraries, they can return the book if they're able to or keep it if they want so it takes the pressure off families."
Ms Rockes said the initiative also helped to drag children's attention away from technology.
"They've been placed in locations where children are often waiting with a parent," she said. "So it gives them an opportunity to open a book together rather than a child being given a screen or being told to be quiet."
Ms Sloane said higher literacy rates would also help improve health literacy in the region.
"For people to understand how to stay healthy and well, they need to be able to read," she said. "If they don't have those basic skills, their health outcome is poorer.
"So we need to start with the early years to ensure we are doing everything we can for the best outcomes."
Volunteers at the Bendigo Kiwanis Club started building the book box libraries but due to increased demand, they have gained the services of Loddon Prison to help with the construction.
"Loddon Prison have been fantastic and have loved to get involved," Mr Pedretti said. "We also have the timber donated by Central Kitchen who have been very generous in donating off-cuts and bringing them to size."
Loddon Prison Vocational Services Manager Steve Comte said it was about giving back to the people of Bendigo.
"We do have quite an extensive link with the local community," he said. "We are involved in other programs in local schools and community groups.
"But our Regional Engagement Manager Tom Wills is a member of Kiwanis and thought this would be a great way to get involved.
"For the guys who are building the boxes, it's not just about skill acquisition. They get quite a kick out of knowing it's going to a good cause."
Bendigo Communities for Children are developing a framework on how the program was developed in Bendigo so it can then be replicated in other cities.
The groups also want to continue expanding the program across Bendigo, with hopes there will be more than 100 book boxes around the city before the end of the year.
"We want them to be wherever we can get them," Mr Pedretti said. "We want kids to be able to walk past and always be able to pick up a book to read."
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