Putting books into the hands of newborns in the Cariboo Chilcotin is a labour of love for Lil Mack.
A member of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Partners For Literacy (CCPFL) since its inception in the 80s, Mack said the books go to approximately 400 parents of newborns each year in Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and smaller communities in the Cariboo Chilcotin.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, bags containing four books each were delivered to the maternity wards, but due to restrictions in place the bags are being dropped off at the front door of the hospital.
“They are taken up to the maternity wards and the staff gives them out or to the nursing stations in the Chilcotin to be given out,” Mack said.
Another place to share the books is during Baby Fest, which is held annually in Williams Lake, but with pandemic restrictions it did not happen in 2020.
“We always catch moms there who may have gone away to have a baby or they’d left the hospital before the nurses could give them the bags,” Mack said.
A pamphelt is also enclosed for parents to promote reading in the house with a self-checklist to see if their efforts are encouraging babies to be more engaged.
“It’s quite a lovely coloured brochure,” Mack added.
Books for Babies is all done by volunteers and through financial support from the Williams Lake and District Credit Union annually.
Additionally, Mack co-ordinates the Bright Red Bookshelf with Kathy Newell, another member of CCPL, which is housed the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex for people to take books home.
Born in Canora, Sask., in December 1946, Mack’s family moved to Kitimat where she grew up.
Her mom was a single parent for most of her childhood, Mack said.
After pursuing a university education in Calgary, Alta., she finished a library science degree at the University of British Columbia.
She worked in public libraries, including in Williams Lake for 20 years, and spent six years with her late husband Bruce Mack in West Africa, where they both worked as teachers.
Mack recalled the beginnings of CCPL, saying it started when she met Debbie DeMare who was working for Cariboo College
“Debbie would come into the library, holding a pile of files, and hoping to find a free table where she could meet with people needing help with literacy.”
That meeting coincided with a joining of minds, Mack said.
“We were ready for some kind of group to get together to promote literacy in our community.”
What started as a small group grew when Bruce asked some of his friends to help.
Together the volunteers started doing some fun things to make literacy relevant and enticing.
“We wanted people to know if they needed help, it was OK to reach out,” Mack added.
Over the years, a lot of what CCPL has done is learner-driven, ranging from someone needing help reading a map or preparing for Canadian citizenship.
Fast forward to 2021, and there are at least 14 people in the group and Mack said they continue to ‘amazing’ community support.
A book lover herself, Mack said these days she’s reading The Baker Street Boys series by Anthony Read and a ‘cozy mystery’ series by David Rosenfelt.
Outside of her house near the sidewalk, she has a little box of books for her neighbours to help themselves, as way of promoting literacy as well.
“I try to put a few local history and local writer’s book in there. I think people enjoy that and there are a couple of people from Rotary who keep an eye out for those kinds of books for me.”
Lil and Bruce raised two daughters who followed their career path and love for literacy. One is a teacher in Williams Lake and the other is a district principal in Vernon.
She has four grandchildren — two in university and two in secondary school.
Staying at home most of the time, Lil is recuperating from her second back operation and appreciating the mild winter and is happy to have her sister Doreen living with her.