Florenza Denise Lee created the HRIABF to celebrate independent authors and their work. Now in its third year, this free, family-friendly, indoor event showcases authors and illustrators of all genres and will feature 125 unique vendors, authors, artists, small businesses, and cause-driven organizations for a day of celebration, literacy, and community. There will also be live music and entertainment, games, contests, a raffle, and food trucks. The festival aims to lift community voices and support REACH, Inc. with all proceeds from the event.
REACH (Reading Enriches All Children) is Coastal VA’s leading literacy resource organization and, in the last calendar year, has shared more than 75,000 new and gently used books through its programs. The organizers established REACH in 1998 with a simple model: volunteers reading and giving books to children in homeless or domestic violence situations. Since then, it has grown to include 11 partner homeless and domestic violence shelters and nine community organizations in Hampton Roads, promoting youth literacy and education for at-risk children. In the last five years, it has grown from a staff of two people in 500 square feet to a team of 12 in 7,500 square feet, identifying and meeting a critical community need.
REACH also operates The Big Free Bookstore inside Military Circle Mall. The store, which began as a popup on Black Friday, 2020, carries everything from YA novels to baby books. There is even a small section of contemporary fiction for adults since the best way to promote youth literacy is by having books in the home and seeing your parent(al figure)s read. The Big Free Bookstore still provides two books per person, per household, up to two times a week, FOR FREE. Seriously. Between opening day and April 2022, The Big Free Bookstore has distributed over 41,000 free books and 500,000 free resources, served 4,700 unique families and 12,000 individuals, and had over 10,000 visitors, 83% of whom are Southside residents.
You might wonder, “how is that profitable?” The answer is, “it’s not.” As a 501c(3), REACH’s mission is to connect kids with books, not to make money. But they certainly need money to continue their incredible service to the Hampton Roads community.
In addition to continued funding, REACH also needs a new home. Along with the 94 other tenants of Military Circle Mall, REACH found out on August 3rd that they must vacate the premises by the end of the year to clear the way for MCM’s demolition and redevelopment. Though a tenant relocation plan was touted by the city, as of August 9th, they had not shared it with REACH or any other tenants. NFK Currents will be covering this story as it develops.
Although MCM is closing, it isn’t closed. Come, Enter the Story-verse, and join the celebration of creativity at the Indie Author Book Festival on August 21st from 11:00 am – 5:30 pm. In addition to meeting local authors and artists, visit The Big Free Bookstore, take a lap around MCM and witness the community that has flourished here. To support or get involved with REACH, follow them on Instagram @reachreads and @thebigfreebookstore.
Catie was born in Norfolk and as an adult has lived here for two years and change. She has a master's in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. She likes hiking, playing trivia, being a flaneuse, pinball, memes, and growing vegetables.