TORONTO -- It was a conversation with her mother that prompted medical student Kate Uhlman to want to do something for the children in her community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was just speaking to her about how it must be really challenging for a lot of children right now,” Uhlman told CTV News Toronto. “Especially children with maybe lower socio-economic status, spending more time at home, especially if their parents themselves can’t afford new books.”

From there, the McMaster medical student came up with a plan to keep kids reading.

“Children’s literacy is so important, and some of my fondest memories as a child was my parents reading to me,” she explained. “I came up with the idea of [collecting] lightly used or new books within our community to give to children and families in need.”

Books4Families was founded with the goal of creating a place for people to donate their gently used children’s books in a collection drop box.

“I have a lot of roots within the Leaside community having grown up there, so I thought that it would be a perfect place to start.”

There are now two boxes in that neighbourhood and a third in the works. Uhlman says a team of volunteers collect the donations each week, sorts through them, and then brings the books to the Children’s Book Bank in Regent Park for distribution.

Kate Uhlman

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Roxanne Deans, Director of Inventory, Outreach and Communications at the Children’s Book Bank. “Our main source of inventory comes from book donations from previously loved books. [Kate] is sort of helping us do our first steps in getting books out to kids, so we really value the support.”

Deans adds that it’s a good time for families to pass books that they may have outgrown on to others.

“A lot of people are doing cleaning right now during COVID and sorting through things that they maybe aren’t using anymore, and children’s book often fall into that category,” she said.

Uhlman hopes to see Books4Families eventually expand to the point where there are ten collection drop boxes around the city.

While they’ve only just launched, Uhlman says the program has been well-received.

“The kindness that people have demonstrated has just been so inspiring,” she tells CTV News Toronto. “I think that this initiative is not only inspiring people to give back locally within the community, but I think it’s also bringing people together at home.”

Books4Families is also accepting monetary donations to help those in need and expand their program.