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Library Book Donation Honors Former Student

First published in the April 30 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

The Evelyn Swierczynski Foundation, a nonprofit formed after the death of a Burbank student from leukemia, said it will soon donate $1,250 in books to local elementary school libraries.

The donation involves about 250 books that reflect the Burbank Unified School District’s values of diversity, equity and inclusion, said Lisa Dyson, library coordinator at Dolores Huerta Middle School. She has worked closely with Meredith Swierczynski, whose daughter and Burbank High School student Evelyn died in 2018, on determining which books to purchase.

The idea came, Swierczynski explained in an interview, after her husband Duane’s 50th birthday in February. He decided he wanted to celebrate the day with an online fundraiser for their nonprofit, expecting to garner between $500 and $1,000. Within an hour, Meredith Swierczynski said, they’d received $1,800 — a figure that ballooned to $7,600 by the fundraiser’s close.

“We were so overwhelmed and so pleased, and we knew that we had to do something good with this money,” she added, “so that the folks that are taking a chance on us … their donation is going to be honored.”

Swierczynski reached out to Dyson, with whom she’d discussed the possibility of building a small lending library at Dolores Huerta Middle School. The foundation had already placed one at John Muir Middle School, which Evelyn — or Evie, as she was often called — had attended.

But Dyson told Swierczynski that the school district had a more pressing need. With funding for BUSD libraries tight, she said, some frequently have to rely on PTA donations and other charitable gestures to acquire new books. And with the district having committed to anti-racism and promoting diversity, Dyson explained, its elementary school libraries need additional funding to buy books that would help children of different backgrounds see themselves positively.

“It’s super important,” Dyson said. “It’s a priority to make sure that every kid … walking into our school library will feel represented.”

Swierczynski took the idea to the foundation’s board, which she said voted unanimously to approve the funding for the school libraries. They worked with a bookstore in Texas, which helped recommend appropriate titles.

The Evelyn Swierczynski Foundation holds regular events to raise money for books that are donated to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where the 15-year-old underwent treatment following her diagnosis, and the lending library at John Muir Middle School. It also organizes blood drives and similar donor events.

Seeing how many people were willing to honor her daughter was “overwhelming,” Swierczynski said. But it wasn’t the first time the community had shown such support, she noted. When Evelyn was in the hospital, Burbank residents and friends rallied to pay for the family’s meals, gas and other needs.

“It was always very overwhelming, in a good way, to realize just how loved our family is,” Swierczynski said.

The Evelyn Swierczynski Foundation will hold a book fair at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena from July 11 to 17, a week that includes what would have been Evie’s 19th birthday. The nonprofit will also hold a blood drive at the same location on July 14.

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