Fairfax charity provides free books to teachers, shelters

July 10, 2013

When Stephen Hersey, 45, was growing up, his mother taught in a lower-income school system in Massachusetts.

“I would see her going to yard sales and flea markets, trying to buy books with her own money for her classroom,” Hersey, of Alexandria, said.

Hersey said the memory was his inspiration in 2002 to start Books for America, a nonprofit organization that provides books to teachers, people in homeless shelters and others who might not be able to afford them. The donations are also for those, such as prisoners, who don’t have easy access to public libraries.

“Our mission is to promote literacy, lifelong learning and understanding by distributing donated new and used books of all types; movies, music and instructional compact discs; audio books; and other forms of media to organizations serving economically, socially or physically disadvantaged communities and individuals,” Hersey said.

The organization, based in a warehouse on Pickett Road in Fairfax, accepts all book donations and will pick them up. Hersey said the charity sells about half the books at a bookstore in Dupont Circle to cover organizational expenses, and donates the rest.

“We have been headquartered in Fairfax for at least seven years, but we are much better known in the District because of the store there,” Hersey said. “We hope that with our new collection bin expansion that we can get our name out there in Fairfax and eventually pull in enough book donations to open a store in Fairfax by 2014.”

The organization has added 13 collection bins throughout Northern Virginia at shopping centers owned by Federal Realty Investment Trust, including properties in McLean, Vienna, Mount Vernon and Falls Church.

Bins are in many shopping center parking lots, such as Barcroft Plaza, Mount Vernon Plaza, Chesterbrook, Idylwood Plaza, Falls Plaza, Pike 7 Plaza, Leesburg Plaza, Tower Shopping Center, Tysons Station, Pan Am Shopping Center, Loehmann’s Plaza and Old Keene Mill Shopping Center.

Until recently, the organization had focused its collection efforts on D.C. residents. But with the prominent placement of new bins in Virginia, Books for America officials are hoping that many residents of Fairfax and Loudoun counties will become aware of the organization’s goal to collect books.

“I’ve always loved books and am fortunate to have come from an environment where reading was encouraged,” Hersey said. “I know the value and the power of books, but I also know that a painfully high number of people in the local area simply don’t have access to good books, or oftentimes, to any books at all.”

Last year, the organization brought in about $1 million, Hersey said.

“We are self-sufficient and do not receive any outside funding,” Hersey said. “Simply put, the more books we collect, the more reading libraries we will be able to build and improve in local schools, shelters and many other organizations. Thousands of kids will benefit from the books we will collect at these new donation locations.”

Teachers are pleased with Books for America, said Julie Easer, principal at Westgate Elementary School in Falls Church.

“We have about three to four teachers that go to the Books for America warehouse every year and pick out books that they then use to enhance their classroom libraries,” she said. “They love it, and donations are huge in this economy. They always tell me that they find good quality books that are of high interest to kids, which is always a good thing to promote reading.”

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