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Fueling A Passion for Reading

Bess the Book Bus is a mobile literacy outreach program founded by Jennifer Frances, dedicated to bringing books to underserved neighborhoods and schools annually. Named after her grandmother “Nana Bess,” to whom she accredits her passion for reading, Bess the Book Bus reaches over 30,000 underprivileged children and families across the USA annually.

What motivated you to start Bess the Book Bus?

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In 2002 I was looking for a place to volunteer, so I started making a list of what I might like to do to give back. That’s when Bess the Book Bus came to mind. When I hit the road I didn’t know exactly where I was going or who I was going to serve, but I started in hospitals and medical clinics. I was thinking places where people wouldn’t have access to or money for books.

Where did the name “Bess the Book Bus” come from?

Bess the Book Bus is named after my nana whose name was Elizabeth. My cousin would try to call her Nana Bess but he couldn’t say Bess as a two-year old. So he would call her Nana Bus. She was someone in my life that was really influential in making me a reader, as she would always take me to the library around the corner, or down to the general store that would have a rack of Golden Books.

Why did you want a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter for Bess the Book Bus?

My first van had a lot of trouble on the road and it was a big problem. When CITGO, one of my partners, asked me what kind of van I wanted, I knew it had to be the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. It is truly the only vehicle that does everything I need it to do. It has great gas mileage, it’s attractive looking, and interior-wise it’s so easy to convert. CITGO then helped me connect with Mercedes-Benz, who donated a brand new, fully upfitted Sprinter van.

Tell us about the upfit and how you personalized your bus.

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Inside the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, there is primarily shelving that holds several thousand books (books for all ages of kids and some adults). It’s got wood floors, great lighting, and electrical runs as well. It’s like a cross between a library and a bookstore. My boyfriend and I did the painting inside to make it be like stepping into another world for them, and that’s why it’s designed like it is.

What is the kids’ favorite feature of the bus?

Their favorite feature of the bus is the interior. When the kids walk in the bus and see that many books presented all at once, they are overjoyed. It is very much like an oasis. I had a little girl get in the bus, look up, and say, ‘It’s magical!’”

Where has Bess the Book Bus traveled?

We’ve been to all 48 contiguous states, and a lot of our upcoming trips are going to be rural outreach, such as rural areas of Maine and Mississippi. But we’re also going to travel to inner-city areas such as Camden, New Jersey, and Detroit.

How many books do you give away per year?

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We give away anything between 50,000 to 85,000 books a year, depending on how many books are being donated to us. This is important because we are trying to build readers, and to do that kids have to have access to books in their homes. And a lot of our kids don’t because they just don’t have the funding. A new hardback book is $16- $17 and that is a big decision for a family to make. They are going to do that or buy dinner for their kids. It is a hard choice.

How has your Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van helped grow your business?

Before I received the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, I wouldn’t always be able to make it to events. Now, I can set up events without worrying. It is easy to drive, super dependable, and beautifully designed. You can tell by the kids’ faces when they get on the bus that they are transported.

Learn more about Bess the Book Bus here.

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