A recent fundraiser paired wine, cheese and a presentation from a local author with an effort to curb illiteracy rates in Napa.
The Napa County Library Foundation held its first LitStroll on Friday, hoping to help fund the library’s Literacy Center, which offers free tutoring, materials and support for people seeking help with learning to read.
Two downtown tasting rooms, John Anthony and Ceja, donated space and staff for the event. Participants munched on cheese and appetizers while hearing from Napa author Janet Fletcher about four of her food-and-beverage-related books.
For those who can’t read, tasks like passing a written driver’s test, reading a prescription bottle or ordering at a restaurant can seem daunting.
In 2003, the most recent data available, about 14 percent of Napa residents lacked basic literacy skills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The center at the library assists this population, which in turn helps them get jobs, read to their children and accomplish tasks many take for granted, said Danis Kreimeier, the director of library services and community outreach.
It serves about 100 people a year and has seen many success stories.
“It is just transforming, and it changes people’s lives,” Kreimeier said.
The Literacy Center has lost half of its grant funding because of massive budget cuts, said Ed Shenk, president of the Napa County Library Foundation. In response, the foundation and library officials started fundraising efforts to keep the program alive.
Foundation board member Ian White came up with the idea of the LitStroll and recruited Fletcher to come speak.
The stroll started at the John Anthony tasting room on First Street and continued at Ceja down the street.
Fletcher, who has been a writer for 30 years, gave presentations on four of her books: “Fresh From the Farmers’ Market,” “Eating Local,” “Cheese & Wine” and “Cheese & Beer.”
“Fresh From the Farmers’ Market” covers tips about produce from farmers and includes recipes for produce available at different times of the year at markets. She advocates for Community Supported Agriculture in her second book, “Eating Local,” by offering recipes on the variety of produce that subscribers may get from local farms.
“It’s a way of expanding your produce vocabulary,” she told the crowd.
The first two books showcase her passion for produce.
In the second two, she explores how wine and beer can be paired with a variety of cheeses.
Fletcher was quick to accept an invitation to speak for an event on behalf of the literacy program, she said. She has found cookbooks as a way to travel the world from her kitchen and enjoys sharing her own.
“Cookbooks are an adventure to me,” she said.
Paulette Timmer of Napa attended the event at the invitation of a friend who is a tutor for Spanish speakers.
She enjoyed the event and is happy to support a program that helps people learn to read.
“It gives people an opportunity who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise,” Timmer said.
At the Literacy Center, students are paired with a tutor they feel comfortable with, Kreimeier said. Each student sets a goal, such as being able to pass the written driver’s test or the GED. Once they reach their goal, they move onto the next one.
Many people have found ways to mask their illiteracy for years, Shenk said.
“It takes a lot of courage to come in and admit, ‘Hey, I don’t know how to read. Can you help me?’” he said.
Organizers of the LitStroll sold 32 of the 50 tickets they were offering for the event, Shenk said. At $35 a ticket, it will raise the program a little more than $1,000.
If the event receives positive feedback, the library foundation may host another one, he said.
The venues donated their time and beverages for free, and Cypress Grove Chèvre provided the cheese. Ceja and board members provided appetizers.
It was a cause worth supporting, Fletcher said.
“Books are what frees people’s imagination,” she said. “The ability to read opens new worlds to kids.”