The Heartland Book Bank works to alleviate illiteracy in the community by collecting and then distributing books, free of charge, to agencies, schools, libraries, public housing sites, and other groups that serve low-to-moderate income individuals. The organization began in July 1996 and serves the greater Kansas City area, which is home to more than 100,000 illiterate adults. It was organized by Joann Harper with seed money from Southwestern Bell, her former employer.
The Book Bank is completely staffed by 40 volunteers and is open six days a week year round. Most volunteers are senior citizens or teachers. Others include Southwestern Bell employees involved in the company's community service program, Southwestern Bell Pioneers.
Books and educational materials are donated by individuals, organizations, and various corporate collection sites. The Book Bank has distributed over 33,000 books, magazines, and other educational materials to 146 agency workers who represent 88 different nonprofit agencies since it opened. Those agencies serve 612,900 people throughout the greater Kansas City metropolitan area.
The Heartland Book Bank is funded by grants and donations from corporations, churches, and community service organizations, as well as fundraising events. The administrative offices of a local cemetery donate office space and utilities to the Book Bank. In the last year, the Book Bank has doubled the number of agencies they serve. The Bank distributed five times the number of materials in the last half of their first year than they did in the first half. It is currently working to provide classroom space for reading classes and open book banks in other cities.
Joann Harper was awarded a JC Penney Golden Rule Award in 1997 for her work with the Book Bank.