Clowns fill a reading need

As rebuilding continues in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, scores of individuals and organizations have worked to help its schools and libraries get back on their feet through book drives. All those book drives and donations have sparked a newfound interest in getting books in the hands of the underserved and less fortunate in the Capital District.

Most recently, a group of local clowns have thrown their oversized hats into the ring.

We collected 1,276 or 1,277 books, of which 800 were shipped to Louisiana, some to Schenectady and others to Waterford, said Paul Kleinberger of Smiles Unlimited, a Loudonville entertainment company that hires out clowns.

Among the company's A-listers is Fuddi-Duddy, Kleinberger's alter ego.

Kleinberger joined with the Brothers of Evening Star Lodge 75, the Rennselaer-Schenectady Masonic District and local Shriner clowns.

It's like a fraternal order of clowns getting books to those who need them, Kleinberger said.

It all began in 2006 with the Clowns of America Convention in New Orleans. It was the first convention after Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the city. Seeing the devastation first-hand, the clowns pooled their contacts and resources and collected more than 3,000 books to donate to two schools in the city.

However, as reconstruction was under way at the schools, the books sat on their shelves collecting moisture and began to mold. They were thrown out by the Environmental Protection Agency.

This year, local chapters did the same, and they called upon their contacts -- other clowns, book enthusiasts and dealers -- to help.

The book drive began in February this year and was expected to last little more than a month. It lasted until July as more organizations got on board and helped out. Soon it surpassed its goal and boxes of books were on their way to Bethune Elementary School in New Orleans. Wondering what to do with the surplus, local clowns and book dealers decided to turn their attention on some people locally who have been passed by in the rush to restock New Orleans.

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