When I was a kid, my favorite book was Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. I probably made my mom and dad read it to me about a million times. I don’t think I have even seen a copy of this book in about 15 years, but I can still picture all of the illustrations, and I can still remember giggling like a maniac every time we got to the part when the Elementary School had to close because a giant pancake fell out of the sky and covered it up! Maybe you remember this book too, or maybe you liked Amelia Bedilia, or Green Eggs and Ham, or Babar. Either way, I’d be willing to venture a guess that most of PoP’s readership holds a fond memory of a favorite childhood book.
Unfortunately a lot of children in Washington DC miss out on the chance to make these memories. According to the US Department of Education, a common theme among underperforming children is that they have limited to no access to reading books. And more than 60 percent of low income families have not a single book at home for their children. Books for America’s founder, Stephen Hersey wanted to find a way to make it possible for families who didn’t have the means to be able to provide books for their children, and that is just what he is helping to do.
Hersey started his not for profit organization in 2002 as a way to promote literacy and education by donating new and used books of all types to organizations that serve disadvantaged communities and individuals. Since 2005 the organization has been headquartered at 1417 22nd Street in Dupont Circle, in their “Bookstore with a purpose.” How it works is pretty simple; lots of people donate books, all children’s books and others that are deemed appropriate for their recipient organizations (these include transitional homeless shelters, adult literacy programs, military bases, correctional facilities, senior centers, women’s shelters, and more) are distributed. A number of these organizations are right in PoPville too, including EL Haynes Public Charter School, Centronia, Meridian Public Charter School, to name a few. The remaining books are sold in the store at low prices. It’s a great model, and actually provides almost all of the funding for the organization so that they can be less reliant on grants. Continues after the jump.
This is a great organization, and the bookstore is awesome. A friend recently suggested that I check it out after I mentioned that I haven’t had much luck with the other used bookstores in DC. I don’t think the staff at Idle Time is very friendly or helpful, Second Story was closed for a while (though they just re-opened this weekend), and then there is Capitol Hill Books where I get nervous just walking in the door! I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only is the staff at Books for America friendly, but also the store is well organized, and they have a wide variety and great selection of books to choose from. I saw multiple copies of a lot of recent bestsellers as well as old classics, plenty of great cookbooks, travel books, history books, a bunch of books on tape, CD’s, and the best collection of VHS movies that I have seen in a long while, unfortunately not many DVDs though. And the best thing of all is that almost every book in the whole store costs less than $4 and they are all in really good condition! As if the prices weren’t low enough, they have sales twice a year where most books are marked down 25% and after a week or two the prices get slashed to 50%. The next one is coming up sometime in July.
I’ve been trying to limit my accumulation of stuff lately, otherwise I would have walked out of there with a whole armload of books. However, a recently developed interest in whaling did prompt me to pick up a copy of Moby Dick for a mere 50 cents! I’d highly recommend checking this place out if you are seeking to expand your library. Even if you think every single book in this store sucks (which I doubt will be the case), there is no denying that they are doing something really great for the community. Their website states that as of January 5th, 2009 they have donated nearly $2 million worth of books to deserving organizations, and that’s something that I think everyone should be able to get behind.
A lot of things I’ve read about this place call it one of the city’s best kept secrets. As much as I hate to blow up someone’s favorite spot, I think this is a place that deserves as much attention as it can get. And it seems to me that the more people know about it, the more resources they might be able to offer, both to the recipients of their services, and to the rest of the book-loving community in DC. Even if you can’t donate some of your own books, or make a purchase in their store, there are a lot of easy ways you can provide support. They are always looking for volunteers to help out in their warehouse and organize book drives, If you shop at Safeway you can register your Safeway card and they will donate 3% of all of your purchases to Books for America’s book donation and library building program, and you can register an Amazon.com account to donate 15% of your purchases to Books for America. Take a look at their website for more information www.booksforamerica.org.