SUCCESS Gives Back: Promoting Literacy in At-Risk Communities

A few years ago, a volunteer delivering magazines and comic books for the nonprofit MagLiteracy delivered some reading material to a homeless shelter in Boston. The volunteer came across a young boy who had never shown an interest in reading. But on this particular day, the boy decided to pick up a magazine from the volunteer’s stack.

When the volunteer came back on her next run, the young boy was by the door, waiting for more things to read. A few weeks later, the volunteer saw the boy reading to his young sister. This is one of John Mennell’s favorite stories, but far from his only one.

“There are so many stories of how that one book, that one comic or that one magazine opened up someone’s eyes to a whole new world,” says Mennell, the founder and chairman of MagLiteracy. “We’re not just sharing stories; we’re creating them.”

MagLiteracy delivers new and recycled magazines to at-risk readers in emergency shelters, women’s crisis shelters and other organizations in need of reading material. For instance, the organization recently delivered a trove of cooking magazines to a shelter for trafficked women in Columbus, Ohio. With help from those magazines, the women are now learning culinary skills and some basics like math.

“Illiteracy is a root cause of poverty and hunger,” Mennell says. “And when we say poverty, we’re also referring to poverty of the mind, poverty of the heart. In the same way Kroger supplies food banks with surplus food, we’re able to give a new life to reading materials supplied to us by our partners.”

And now SUCCESS is one of those partners. The magazine recently donated 25,000 issues to MagLiteracy, contributing to the organization’s mission of expanding literacy and spreading great stories. For Hugh Murphy, the manager of product marketing and development at SUCCESS, the donation was a no-brainer.

“Now these magazines are being used for what they were originally published to do,” he says. “They’re inspiring, encouraging and educating new people.”

Since the relaunch of SUCCESS in 2008, the magazine has accumulated thousands of back issues from overprints and event leftovers. Murphy says the company has made it a priority to reduce its inventory, but at the same time, throwing out magazines in bulk just didn’t sit right with him and his colleagues. He searched for possible donation sites, and one day, he discovered MagLiteracy.

“It was really refreshing to find an organization that takes magazines in bulk,” he says. “MagLiteracy was the perfect fit.”

Mennell agrees.

“What SUCCESS has done is so important,” he says. “It’s so timely.

That’s because MagLiteracy has established what it calls a “literacy bank,” similar to a community food bank. The warehouses that comprise this literacy bank allow MagLiteracy to accept a larger volume of donations and, in turn, reach more people in need of great stories to read. But Mennell and MagLiteracy will never simply deliver mass amounts of magazines and hope for the best; they are strategic about their choices.

“We always want to specifically match magazines to our readers’ goals,” he says. “Whether we’re delivering to that shelter in Ohio or the Inuit north of the Arctic Circle, we can connect people to the stories that make the most sense for them.”

In other words, as long as people and partners like SUCCESS continue donating material to MagLiteracy, the organization can keep reaching readers like that young boy in Boston.

“There are thousands of magazines in distribution in the U.S., and trust me: There’s something out there for everyone,” Mennell says. “That’s the beauty of magazines.” 

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photos courtesy of Magliteracy

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Tyler Hicks is a writer based in Dallas. His work has been published in Texas Monthly, the Houston Chronicle, D Magazine and The Dallas Morning News, among other publications. When he's not writing, he enjoys reading mystery novels and watching old movies with his wife.

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