Imagine a child who has never owned their own book. That thought was devastating to an 8-year-old girl from Orono, Minn., who loved to read -- so she made it her mission to put a book in every child's hands.
Maria Keller's mother, Maura, told FOX 9 News that Read Indeed was her daughter's brainchild, a vision of collecting a million books for kids in need.
"I love the fact it can kind of take you anywhere and you don't think about the life outside of reading," Maria Keller said of her passion for books.
Maria Keller was only 8 when her mother told her that some children couldn't afford their own books. When looking at her own bookshelves, she decided to try and change things for kids who are not as fortunate.
"I was amazed that so many kids in the world don't have books, and I wanted to fix that," Keller explained.
Inside the storage facility the family grew to need over the last five years, the Kellers now organize the books they collect by category and age before donating them to schools, hospitals and non-profits in Minnesota and abroad.
"All these books are going to go to kids in need," she said, showing off the stockpile that will soon be sent out.
Maria Keller's goal has grown far beyond the first church function that started it all. She collected 1,000 books at that event, but her dreams were bigger.
"My goal was to collect one million books by the time I'm 18," she said.
Collecting one million books in 10 years -- 100,000 annually -- is a lofty goal, which is why it's even more remarkable that she met that milestone in half the time she'd anticipated.
"What amazes me is how many lives she's touched -- and how many people have gotten involved in Read Indeed," Maura Keller admitted.
Read Indeed, a non-profit literacy organization, blossomed in the past five years, and Maria Keller has received donations from across the globe. So far, her books have gone to 16 states and at least eight countries -- including Costa Rica, England, France, Germany, Mexico, Spain, the Philippines and locations in the continent of Africa.
Yet, Maria Keller says the greatest satisfaction comes from personally handing a child their own book.
"It's really quite amazing just to see the looks on their faces and how excited they are just to get a book," she said.
Even years in, those opportunities still serve as emotional events for the family.
"Those moments in time where it brings tears to your eyes -- frankly, it sounds sentimental," Maura Keller said. "It's pretty neat."
While there have been many accomplishments in the past five years, Tuesday brought a big one. A children's book publisher in Mankato fulfilled Maria Keller's dream of collecting her million books five years ahead of schedule by donating 36,000.
"It's so cool how people have helped me out with my dream," she reflected.
Now that she's surpassed the million-book mark, Maria Keller plans to continue because she says even that amount doesn't put a dent in the global need. That's why she is setting a new goal -- to donate books to every state and every country by the time she is 18.
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