Mother starts book drive to honor late daughter, increase access to books

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – Kaiea Batts was just fourteen years old when she passed away in a car crash. She was one month away from her 15th birthday. Her mother, Susan, describes her as a “shining light.”

“She had a great sense of humor; she loved amusement parks and rollercoasters, reading and dancing,” Susan said.

But most of all, Kaiea’s passion was for books.

“From the time she was little, she loved to read, and we would spend hours reading together,” Susan said. “And then when she was old enough to read by herself, she would just go to the library and get tons of books out and just spend hours reading.”

Susan wanted to find a way to keep her daughter’s memory alive.

She decided to start the Great Wave Book Drive. Kaiea’s name means “great wave” in Hawaiian.

The book drive began in April with a goal of collecting 50 books for Lowcountry Orphan Relief and 100 books for a village in Mexico that’s trying to build a library. Now, over 2,000 books have been donated in just a few weeks.

There are bins at some businesses where people can drop off books. One of those bins is at Angel Oak Crossfit on Johns Island. Owner Megan Flora trained Kaiea twice a week for over a year.

“Never a second thought to do anything I can to continue to kind of honor her memory,” Flora said.

The bin at Angel Oak Crossfit is full. Some of the books in those bins will go towards helping the abused, abandoned and neglected children at Lowcountry Orphan Relief. They package up care kits with clothing, toiletries, stuffed animals and books for up to 5,000 children a year in the Lowcountry.

“We feel that it’s not only a comfort piece, but it also fosters their creativity, their education,” Lowcountry Orphan Relief Marketing Coordinator Caroline Johnson said. “It’s a really big important piece of what we do in our outreach for these children because it allows them to kind of escape their situations and grows their imaginations.”

Susan says Kaiea was aware of the need for books, and she believed having access to books is a human right.

“During COVID, when the library shut down, we started buying books, she was very much aware that not everyone could go to the bookstore or go and order a lot of books,” Susan said.

Susan said they’re going to continue the drive through May, and annually she plans to do a drive every April to fill bookshelves that need to be filled.

“For each book that comes in, I feel like it’s a book where someone had said her name or thought about her, and it definitely means a lot,” Susan said.

“It’s also just so important to take any type of upsetting event and make the best of that situation and continue to try to help others,” Flora said. “Even if we experience some of our pitfalls, there’s so much more positive that we continue to do, and that certainly is just a great circle to make everyone feel better.”

You can find bins at some other local businesses in the area, including Art Place Studio in Mount Pleasant, Estuary Beans & Barley on Johns Island, Charleston Distilling Company on Johns Island, and the Dance Conservatory of Charleston in West Ashley.

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