Retired Teacher Collecting Books After Fire Destroys Library at Bret Harte Elementary

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MODESTO -- As massive orange flames swallowed an entire wing of Bret Harte Elementary School in Modesto on Friday, Julie Nelson watched in horror.

"I remember on Dec. 29 my husband showing me a clip of the fire as it was being extinguished," Nelson said.

The retired Modesto teacher knew the loss would be huge, and she was right. The fire took down classrooms, a computer lab and the library.

"I just thought it was such devastation," she said.

With hundreds of books turned to ash, and even more students coming back to school after winter break, Nelson had an idea.

"I just felt like somebody should see if they can start donating books," she said.

But instead of taking a back seat and letting relief efforts come from someone else, she had another idea.

"And I went 'I'm retired, why don't I just do that?'" she said.

So she took to Facebook and with a simple request.

"I'd like to collect hardback donated books for Bret Harte Elementary message me and please share."

The support poured in.

In one day, Nelson's post has hundreds of shares and between leaving a tub outside her home and picking up donations herself, she's already collected 150 books.

"The little gestures of a lot of people adds up to make a huge difference in the community," she said.

Nelson's appreciation for the small details, like flipping through pages and looking at illustrations, is why she knows how important is it for a library to be stocked.

Her goal? To get at least 1,000 books back into the school before students return Jan. 16.

"I just hope it makes a difference -- that the kids will enjoy it," she said.

To donate you can drop books off at Modesto City Schools district office at 426 Locust Street, Modesto CA, 95351.