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Children all over Callaway County now have access to free books through Dolly Parton's Imagination Library due to recent expansion of the program to all parts of the county.

The program, started by the country musician to serve her home county in Tennessee, offers free books each month to children from birth to age 5. Today, the program exists all over the U.S. with the help of local sponsors.

Over the past month, Nancy Ingalsbe signed up to administer the program in the southern part of the county.

Ingalsbe got involved after launching Mid Mo Ministry, an online ministry, this summer.

"I was thinking of programs and, of course, kids are special to me," Ingalsbe said. "I mean it is just phenomenal — a great program — and I decided to go with it and have been working ever since."

So far, Ingalsbe has signed up more than 70 children. She began by posting on Facebook, asking if any families were interested.

"Within, oh my gosh, it couldn't have been 10 or 15 minutes, I was getting all sorts of responses," Ingalsbe said.

She's also heard from people in neighboring counties.

"It's kind of hard to say no when it comes to getting books into the hands of children," Ingalsbe said.

Though free for the children, the program does cost something for the local sponsors who help support the program.

Local sponsors sign people up for the program and secure funds to cover the costs of the books — the Imagination Library program negotiates wholesale pricing for the books and covers overhead and administrative expenses.

Ingalsbe is hoping to secure support from others in the community and to collect donations.

According to the Imagination Library website, it costs $2.10 per child per month.

Ingalsbe said she plans on meeting with community groups. The first children who signed up for the program with Ingalsbe should receive a book in the mail in November.

Anyone interested in signing up their children should first check if the program covers their area. Contact information for local sponsors is available at imaginationlibrary.com/check-availability/.

Ingalsbe welcomes interested families or donors to reach out to her at [email protected] or 573-544-6151.

The Imagination Library has also served children in the northern part of Callaway County for several years thanks to the support of the Deimeke family.

Lori Deimeke said her family was inspired to support children in their area because there aren't as many county services up north — families often live far from the Callaway County Library in Fulton and their local schools.

"These children might never get access to a book other than what they were experiencing in school," Deimeke said.

The Imagination Library program aims to reach children early and foster a love of reading.

This article was edited at 9:35 a.m. Oct. 8, 2020, to clarify that the existing free books program in Callaway County has been expanded to serve all parts of the county.

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