Jack E. Kemp
It is a Saturday afternoon at Postal Connections, a mailing and printing services store located in the New Dorp section of Staten Island, New York City. Yes, for you out-of-towners, that’s where the famous ferry ride goes to, a part of New York City that resembles its nearby neighboring suburban communities in New Jersey more than the other four boroughs. Besides the people coming into the Staten Island store to send everything from shopping returns to early Christmas gifts to even an auto tailpipe (complete with muffler) to another state, there is now something people doesn’t expect to find in a shipping store: an area set aside for a book drive.
Owner Mike Allen is collecting piles of mostly paperback books to ship to active duty service men and women as well as military veterans no longer on active duty. Those books sit on the floor in cardboard boxes, shopping bags, and also piled on a table. These books are being continuously donated by his customers for the last several weeks – and continuously shipped out. This is a joint project of Postal Connections national management and a charity called Operation Paperback (www.OperationPaperback.org) which gets requests for books from troops on military bases both in the U.S. and overseas, Veterans’ hospitals, etc. Around forty of the Postal Connection franchises across the country are participating in this effort.
“When we started, I chipped in a few hundred dollars (at my at cost rate) for shipping of the books to veterans. (As the books came in) I ran through that really fast. After mentioning the costs involved to a local businessman friend of mine, he gave me a $500 donation to cover additional costs,” Mike told me. “So far, I have shipped over 1400 donated books from this store to various active duty military and service veterans.”
In the almost four hours I spent in the store that Saturday, customers kept coming in to drop off more books, both with and without having other shipping work. Mike has asked them for small cash donations ($5 or so) to cover the overwhelming cost of shipping all those books that will be arriving until the last day of the drive, November 11th, Veterans Day. One woman even “volunteered” her teenage daughter to come into the store to help pack the book requests in cardboard boxes. And one lady wanted to donate books directly to Operation Paperback after this fall charity drive ends, so Mike Allen gave her the website address (the same one as in the above paragraph) so that she could donate directly (what they call a Volunteer Shipper).
“Some people donate old, yellowed paperbacks and I’ve been told that they are too dry for any hot, dry and windy climate like Iraq because a few of the dried out pages fly away from an old book and a soldier (or other service branch member) may reach up to grab those loose pages and get their hand shot off,” Mike tells me as he examines one of the four books I brought that day that is just such a yellowed discard. “Customers have also brought in hardbound books and children’s books which we give to local Staten Island charities such as shelters for homeless women and churches,” he informed me. Operation Paperback has been known to get requests for children’s books which the “deployed soldiers…read to their children via webcam or on DVDs.”
So what type of books are being gathered? The service members request mostly action adventure, history, horror stories, bestsellers and biographies – books under 500 pages that will fit comfortably into a military backpack or duffel bag. No political books or other controversies. And Operation Paperback has supplied each location with a list showing the preferences of each veteran or location site. Mike Allen, being in the shipping business and a veteran himself, can quickly discern whether a mailing address is to a private off-base location or to an APO military address. And there are requests from service women asking for books more suited to their tastes as well as the same topics the men ask for. That day, Mike packed up books that went to Fort Hood, Texas and to Tinian Island in the Commonwealth of the North Marianas Islands in the Pacific, among other places. Each box sent included a letter from Postal Connections with request for a reply note via email asking for comments and suggestions.
The people at the Staten Island Postal Connections – as well as the other stores across the country – have together put in a few thousand hours of their own labor on top of their expenses. It is obviously a labor of love. Many of the other franchisees are also owned by veterans.
Operation Paperback’s website About page states:
“Over the years, we have earned commendations from the President of the United States, the governor of Maryland, the mayor of Baltimore, and the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce. We have also been featured on television and in print media. While we value the praise we have received at home, the words that mean the most to us are those that come directly from those we serve. They let us know that our efforts are appreciated every day.”
The best conclusion for this article is the notes sent to Operation Paperback by veterans and their families. Here below are five examples from the many, many posted at their website.
Thank you for the box of books. I shared them with everyone at work and we all got something we liked. Thank you for your time and support.
By: Joe F. (Afghanistan)
I received two books (The Minervan Experience & Encounters with Archdruid) from someone in New York State. The package was mangled & I can’t make out the full address. I want to let you know that I received your thoughtful donation & that the books themselves arrived in good condition. Thank you sincerely for your contribution. You are making a difference.
By: Diana M. (USA)
Thank you so much for this. I am a disabled Veteran and do not go out very much anymore. I love to read and appreciate this so very much. GOD Bless and Thanks again.
By: Jeannie J. (USA)
I want to say thank you to Chrissy H for sending my sons all those awesome books. They enjoyed getting the box and going through all the boys. They couldn’t believe all those books was just for them. Thank you again for thinking of us. Chandra M?
By: chandra m. (japan)
We just received a box of books from the Farrlie Family, and we would like to thank them for their support. Our children love to read and these books are very appreciated and will be loved then sent on to other military children once our children outgrow them. They are perfect as our children range in age from 2 to 8. Send our thanks and support.
By: Dunton Family (United States)