GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) — February is a big month for Sara Quartiers and her organization, Project: Cameron’s Story. It’s a month that defines what the group is all about; getting childrens’ books in the hands of parents who can’t connect with their newborns in the way one would normally assume. That’s a reality she herself once had to face.

“They can form a connection that can feel lacking when you’re just sitting by a box,” described Quartiers. “You feel lost, and alone, and like there’s nothing you can give to your baby. This sort of tries to connect that piece, because the sooner the parents are involved, the better the bonding process is for both the parents and the baby.”

Project: Cameron’s Story sends thousands of children’s books to newborn intensive care units (NICU) at 15 hospitals across New York, as a way for parents with prematurely-born children to connect, even if they can’t touch due to the complicated needs of care. This month is the project’s annual bookraiser event, set for next week but open now. It traditionally starts on February 16; the day Quartiers’ son Cameron was born 16 weeks premature.

The bookraiser is the organization’s main chance to gather donated books that then get distributed to hospitals as local as Albany and Glens Falls, and as far as Buffalo and New York City. In pre-pandemic years, donors could buy books at participating Barnes & Noble stores across the state, from where they would be shipped to the project’s Glens Falls home base for distribution.

This year and last, COVID has caused those plans to be modified, with the books needed populating an immense Amazon wish list. 105 collection sites within workplaces and offices around the state of New York are coordinating their own branches of the donation effort. They’re also connected with Scholastic, which runs sites with Scholastic book order forms where donors can choose what they want to send.

All of those books still go straight to Operation: Cameron’s Story to then be sent out to 15 locations. It was uncertain times in 2021 when the project switched to a remote method for the first time, but the results reflected the same support that has helped Project: Cameron’s Story grow for over a decade.

“In 2020, we got in just before the pandemic, and we raised over 23,000 brand-new books. Then, last year, we thought there was no way we were going to be able to do this, going completely online,” Quartiers said. “And then we beat our own total by 1,000 books.”

The hope is for that magic to strike yet again this month, as the project aims to up the book count by another 1,000. Although 23k sounds like a lot of books, it still doesn’t always cover the number of babies who are born early, and with complications, and wind up in the NICU.

“I think people are surprised to hear how many babies are born too soon or too sick,” Quartiers said. “We’re at (Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse). They’re our largest hospital, and they see over 1,300 babies per year.”

More locally, Albany Medical Center sees around 850 annual premature births. It’s another 450 at nearby St. Peter’s Hospital. Glens Falls Hospital doesn’t operate a NICU ward, but does have a children’s special care unit that does get its share of books. Around 350 babies see that center in a year, while more critical care cases head south to Albany.

The book list is stacked with copies of classics, like “Corduroy,” “The Poky Little Puppy” and many others. When Quartiers’ son—who would have turned 13 next week—was in intensive care, it was books like those that she turned to after spending her first few postpartum days sitting by Cameron’s NICU box. It was a way to stop feeling helpless, she says.

“I went for a drive. I don’t know what led me to a bookstore, I don’t know what led me inside, and I don’t know why I went to the children’s department,” Quartiers said. “I left with four books that looked like books a little boy might like.”

She still remembers them, too. Over the following weeks, Cameron heard “Stellaluna,” “Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel,” “The Little Engine that Could,” and “The Giant Jam Sandwich,” over and over again. And even though he couldn’t understand speech yet, from his NICU bed, Cameron responded.

“I hopped up on a stool, opened the little door and started reading to him. The nurse laughed, and said ‘Oh, Cameron likes storytime.’ I looked at her and I said, ‘What do you mean?'”

The nurse showed Quartiers Cameron’s oxygen saturation levels, which had been coming in at around 92% for the week after his birth. While his mother read him a story, the number leapt up to 100.

That reaction was the start that led to now. Parents with similar stories have joined Quartiers as she’s grown Project: Cameron’s Story into a powerhouse that delivers those same kinds of connections to thousands of parents annually. Anyone who wants to give a parent that chance can buy a book online, and visit the project website for more information.