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Book by Book

Or, Talking about the Book Sale — again

book sale in preparationAlice started it alljanuary552006.JPG

When I show up at the earlier services at my church, people expect I’m either going to ask for volunteers for the overflow or talk about the book sale. This week, it’s time to talk about the book sale.

Since 1998, we’ve run an annual used book sale at Trinity. The first year, it helped retire building debt. Since then, the proceeds have gone to projects outside the parish.

For the last several years, all that we raise has gone to the building fund for Shelter House, our only general use source of emergency shelter in the county, is woefully overcrowded in its present location. I like to say we’re building a new shelter book by book.

We raised over $4500 last year, book by book. We try to keep prices pretty low; we want people to have books who want them. Children’s books especially are low priced — a child ought to be able to choose a book, buy a book, own a book. We enjoy some bargaining with our customers, sometimes getting them to round up, or sometimes they get us to round down. We have raised about $15,000 toward the new building. I could go on telling you what a wonderful sale it is — and it is; we’ve heard it described as “the best ecumenical event in Iowa City.”

I could tell you how much fun it is to sort books — is Hemingway fiction (what you read) or literature (what you were assigned to read)? Pink cover, some gilt, man with long hair and muscle, must be a romance. Most of us have books we won’t re-read, or won’t read, and it’s easier (for me, anyway) to give them to this cause than any other I know. Enough: I really want to talk about what I’m learning from the book sale. Book by book.

I don’t have to control all of it or do all of it. My opinion doesn’t matter (even though it’s usually right: Hemingway is fiction, Faulkner probably literature). I don’t have to do it all. Meg has made far better signage than I could; the display poster a Shelter House volunteer designed is striking. The clients from the Shelter whom we hire every year to help with the heavy lifting are pleased to help, feel some ownership in the project. Ideas for what else we could do come up all the time, from everyone — in fact, the original idea for the book sale wasn’t mine, it was Alice’s.

The book sale isn’t a unique event. We wrote up How to Run a Book Sale (the link goes to a pdf), and other people have used ideas from it to run sales in their own communities. The book sale can be a self-sustaining event; we started offering “sponsorships” for $10 or more and people sponsored tables enough to cover all our overhead expenses (much of it goes to pay the Shelter House heavy lifters).

We don’t have to sell all the books that go out the door. We can give books to other causes (such as newly-established library in one of the state Juvenile Homes), or send them to Swaziland to help schools and seminaries. When we have a surplus, we can give cartonsful to sales for other causes some years.

The book sale is fun for a lot of people. Other churches are happy to help donate, sort, work, publicize, attend, and celebrate our success. The book sale isn’t really about raising money, it’s about building community. We build community with each other, community in support of Shelter House and its services for the homeless. Book by book.

That said, I’m still talking about the book sale. We have a schedule for when we’ll be sorting books — though call, if the weather’s bad; we may have enough sense to cancel any given night. As soon as they’re ready, we’ll have a link to the flyer and poster for this year. I’m still asking you to donate books, be a sponsor, tell your friends about the sale, come on March 1st from 10 am to 3 pm and support the building of a new shelter. Book by book.

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