LAFAYETTE — Donations by Barnes & Noble Booksellers shoppers can give the gift of literacy to more than 3,700 4-year-olds across Acadiana during the store’s annual holiday book drive.

The holiday book drive began Tuesday and continues through Jan. 1.

This is the third year the store has joined the Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning for the annual drive, said Drew Zeigler, Lafayette store manager, during a kick-off event Wednesday.

Zeigler said the partnership has enabled the store to get books out into the community where they are needed.

Donations will benefit the more than 3,700 4-year-olds enrolled in public preschool programs in Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin and Vermilion parish schools, Picard Center officials said.

“I think we recognize the value in putting books in every child’s hand,” said Billy Stokes, executive director of the Picard Center. The research center is the evaluator of the state’s LA4 public preschool program.

Research shows the earlier children begin to build literacy skills, the better, but research also indicates that exposure to books at home and in the classroom also make an impact, Stokes said.

“So many of these children have never owned a book,” said Lana Fontenot, Picard Center marketing and public relations director.

The donations give the entire family the gift of literacy, she said.

Since 2009, about 10,600 books have been collected, she said.

“It’s not just 10,000 lives affected. It’s the families’ lives, as well,” she said.

Area parish school officials also attended the event and expressed gratitude for previous donations.

In the first year, books were donated to the Lafayette Parish school system’s preschool program. The second year, books were distributed among the seven area school systems.

This year, after a book is given to each 4-year-old in the seven area school systems, each school system will direct the remaining books to its cooperating child-care centers, Fontenot said.