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“I hate to say I love books—it’s such a cliche—but it’s true,” admits Steve Hersey. It’s a good thing he does, because his Cleveland Park apartment is currently full of them. And they aren’t even his to keep.
Hersey—the manager of an educational foundation for the Association Management Group in McLean—had a brainstorm a few weeks ago inspired by the books that residents often leave in his apartment building’s laundry room. A self-described “die-hard environmentalist,” Hersey combined his hatred of waste with his association experience to found Books for America Inc., a new nonprofit that distributes unwanted books and other media to people in need. After a few book drives—including one at his workplace that netted $4,500 worth of books—and a smattering of publicity, “we’ve probably got a couple thousand books in with very little effort,” he says.
Hersey and a cadre of volunteers will gather the materials, sort them, and distribute them to schools, rural libraries, shelters, and other places where books are not readily available. It’s not a matter of boxing up just any old books and videos and mailing them out, though: The donations will be appropriate to the recipients, Hersey says, noting, “We won’t send a bunch of murder mysteries to, say, a prison.” He hopes that recipient agencies will provide target lists of authors or subjects.
In the first month, the bulk of the work has fallen to Hersey, a distant relative of Hiroshima author John Hersey. He has mounted the book drives, built a Web site at www.booksforamerica.org, applied for nonprofit 501(c)(3) status, made media donations to D.C. Public Schools and D.C. Public Libraries, and bought a van for pickup and delivery. “There’s not a lot of start-up expenses,” says Hersey. Eventually, of course, he will need outside funding. He hopes to get the money from grants and sponsors, individual donations, and a favorite online site, eBay: “If someone donates 400 or 500 books, a couple of them may be valuable.”
He’ll also be seeking volunteer help—he asks everyone he meets to consider working with the organization. And if the personal appeals pay off, he realizes he could soon be in over his head.
One of his first steps: finding a better way station than his apartment. “Tonight I’m going to be driving around looking for little signs in windows—’Space for Rent,’” Hersey says. He envisions a small storefront where “people from recipient organizations can come in and pick what they need.”
“I’ll never be hurting for library books,” he says. —Pamela Murray Winters