Ringgold readers getting help after tornado savaged school

photo Ringgold High School Principal Sharon Vaughn unpacks donated books for the school Thursday in the newly refurbished school library.

HOW TO HELPBook list available online at ringgoldreads.comSend the book to:Mark PierceRHS English Department head29 Tiger TrailRinggold, GA 30736

Thursday morning, Mark Pierce sorted through brand-new copies of "To Kill a Mockingbird" stacked in one of the boxes scattered across his classroom.

Nearly four months ago, Pierce's English classroom at Ringgold High School had water pouring down from the roof, and his neighboring teacher's classroom had shards of glass on the floor.

A tornado savaged the school late on April 27, but teachers weren't allowed to salvage their entire classrooms until months later. Many feared they had lost everything.

"We saw so much damage from the entrance of the building," said Pierce, who heads the English department. "We didn't know what would be lost because of mildew, mold and rotting."

When Pierce and coworkers finally were able to go through their classrooms, they found many of their books had been ruined by water, he said.

But this summer, local author Susan Gregg Gilmore teamed up with a Ringgold book club -- the Not So Rapid Ringgold Readers -- who wanted to donate as many books as the high school and Ringgold Middle School needed.

Gilmore and the book club members have given more than 1,500 books to the schools. The books come from donations by people across the nation and from Random House and Simon & Schuster, Gilmore said.

Gilmore, whose book "Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen" is set in Ringgold, said she couldn't pass up an opportunity to provide students with new books.

"There had been fundraisers for the athletic field ... and for the band, but really no attention had been given to the books," she said.

As donations began to pour in, the group decided to dream bigger and expand the goal, Gilmore said. She said she hopes to get iPads into the students' hands.

"You just can't walk away," she said.

The Not So Rapid Ringgold Readers also are working with the English department to begin a high school book club.

Reading club leader Gail Emerson, who graduated from Ringgold High School in 1958, said the members saw the disaster as an opportunity to reach out to the students and try to mentor them through a common interest.

"We knew that we needed to do something to help the kids," she said.