A picture of a Bernie's Book Bank box with a green label printed with a Zebra printer
By Therese Van Ryne | August 14, 2020

COVID-19 May Have Kept Kids Home, But It Didn’t Keep Them from Learning Thanks to the Work of Bernie’s Book Bank

With the help of many community partners such as Zebra, Bernie’s Book Bank has distributed more than 760,000 books to low-income children to help continue their education and “Change Their Story.”

Nothing can diminish Zebra’s commitment to doing well by doing good – not even a global pandemic. When we make a promise to help, we follow through. Our community partners are counting on us because people are counting on them.

When our partners at Bernie’s Book Bank called us in March to see if we could help them quickly scale their modified operation to offset the impact of COVID-19 in the Chicagoland community, Zebras sprang into action.

Same Important Cause, New (Even More Critical) Mission

When COVID-19 started spreading across the United States in March, most school districts opted to suspend in-person instruction, including all of those in Illinois. Teachers and administrators had to instantly adapt curriculums to maintain a continuous education model. Families had to adjust their normal day-to-day schedules to incorporate distance learning. And millions of students had to find the motivation to keep up their schoolwork and grades despite the distractions all around them.

Even though educators did an amazing job trying to smooth the transition, many children in low-income communities across Chicagoland started to miss “class,” or e-learning. Both schools and students themselves found it difficult to secure the technology resources needed to make e-learning a viable option. Even before the pandemic, 76.4% of students enrolled in Chicago Public Schools met the federal government’s standards to qualify for free or reduced-fee lunches. Like nationwide unemployment rates, this percentage is expected to rise further in the coming months.

So, Bernie’s Book Bank stepped in to help narrow the gap.  

Its mission has always been to increase book ownership among under-served infants, toddlers and school-age children throughout Chicagoland. But with formal education suddenly inaccessible to kids without computer or internet access, giving them books to read was critical.

In a matter of days after local stay-at-home orders were issued, Bernie’s Book Bank launched the “Change Their Story” campaign with the help of philanthropic partners such as Zebra. Together, Bernie’s Book Bank and its partners found creative new ways to get these valuable books safely into the hands of children.

It Takes a Village (and a Few Zebras) to Teach a Child

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, 45,000 people (including many Zebras!) would volunteer their time with Bernie’s Book Bank each year to sort and process donated books. But, like schools, Bernie’s Book Bank has had to close its doors to the public to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

Because its work clearly couldn’t stop, Bernie’s Book Bank reached out to Zebra Supplies Application Architect Kelly Breneisen to help increase the efficiency, accuracy and safety of its operations. Kelly immediately looped in Ken Crafton, a Zebra Sales Engineer.

Both Kelly and Ken have been instrumental in the implementation of Zebra’s donations to Bernie’s Book Bank for the past several years. Ken has overseen the technical integration of Zebra mobile computers while Kelly has ordered the round Bernie’s Book Bank labels placed on every book received by a child. They know the operation well and were able to work quickly to help Bernie’s Book Bank execute its new campaign plan:

1.  Ken would print the classic bright green Bernie’s Book Bank labels using Zebra printers and Zebra supplies…in his home!

Ken Crafton prints labels for Bernie's Book Bank from his home using a Zebra printer

2. The labels would be shipped to the essential employees at Bernie’s Book Bank. This team would then assemble “Family Packs” – bags of six books of various reading levels – and pack them into recyclable boxes branded with Bernie’s Book Bank labels.

A green Bernie's Book Bank label is printed on a Zebra printer

3.  The boxes would then be distributed contact-free by volunteers at sites established by Bernie’s Book Bank partners. In most cases, the books were handed out alongside other educational items and food.

The plan worked brilliantly!

Since March, Bernie’s Book Bank has supplied more than 760,000 quality books to Chicagoland children with the help of organizations such as the Northern Illinois Food Bank, Project H.O.O.D., Big Shoulders Fund, North Chicago Community Partners and Twice as Nice Mother and Child. It doesn’t intend to stop anytime soon, either. In the absence of a traditional learning format, we must go above and beyond to support children’s literacy.

While Bernie’s Book Bank cannot accept their usual volunteers and book donations, it is important that we (you, me, Zebras and other community members) provide cash donations, when we can, to empower the non-profit to complete its mission. Providing children with books to read, whether to learn or simply get lost in their imaginations, is an invaluable gift.

Zebra Nation is grateful that Bernie’s Book Bank has prioritized the continued education of local children despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, and we are honored to have the opportunity to help “Change Their Story.”  

We hope you will join us in supporting Bernie’s Book Bank, however you can. 


How You Can Help “Change Their Story”

While Bernie’s Book Bank is not currently accepting book donations, those interested in contributing can make cash donations to the “Change Their Story” campaign here. Every $12 provides one child in need with 12 quality books for the year.


Inside Zebra Nation,
Therese Van Ryne
Therese Van Ryne

Therese Van Ryne is Senior Director of External Communications for Zebra Technologies. She joined Zebra as part of the acquisition of Motorola Solutions Enterprise business in October 2014. She and her team are laser focused on growing the company’s brand awareness globally aligned with business objectives. Her accomplishments include leading Zebra events with Harvard University and TED as well as the creation of the annual Intelligent Enterprise Index, resulting in positive media coverage, customer engagement and revenue growth.

Prior to Motorola Solutions, Van Ryne worked at SC Johnson where she led corporate communication strategies and drove PR and branding efforts for leading consumer products. One of her top achievements was leading the Windex® placement in the film, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” resulting in a 25% sales increase for the brand.

One of PR News’ 2019 Top Women in PR and Crain's Chicago's 2021 Most Notable Executives in Marketing, Therese also has experience as a journalist, editor and producer, reporting nightly from Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Van Ryne holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications and Journalism from Marquette University and an Executive Leadership Master’s Certificate from Cornell University.

Zebra Developer Blog
Zebra Developer Blog

Are you a Zebra Developer? Find more technical discussions on our Developer Portal blog.

Zebra Story Hub
Zebra Story Hub

Looking for more expert insights? Visit the Zebra Story Hub for more interviews, news, and industry trend analysis.

Search the Blog
Search the Blog

Use the below link to search all of our blog posts.