Roger and Susan Atlas were our Featured Volunteers for the Month of June 2023. Roger has been volunteering with us since we were in the U District. During quarantine in 2020, Susan filled all the orders for people in Texas state prisons, 30-40% of our total requests, in her garage.
In 2017, they found out that Discover Books, an online retailer of used books in Tacoma, donated books they couldn't sell to nonprofits. They opened their home to wholesale deliveries of these books, and gave them away around the world. They became our single largest source of book donations, especially genre fiction and textbooks.
In September, Discover Books closed its Tacoma warehouse. Last month, Roger described how this has affected their capacity,
"Things have changed very much since the Discover Books sorting facility left Washington state.
"Over six years, we have grown to serve over 400 non-profits. This year we have provided books to just over 100 destinations that are mostly in western Washington but also ranged as far as Gambia, Tanzania, Mexico, India and Nepal. These recipients are primarily educational but also include a wide variety of organizations such as hospitals, prisons, shelters, low income housing, senior citizens residences, immigrant groups, and day care centers for toddlers.
"Discover Books provided a very wide variety of books. We still receive books from other sources but the characteristics are different.
"Our primary source has become school districts so we have less variety. Most of the books we receive are English language for audiences between 6 and 18, i.e, the ages of students.
"We face challenges obtaining books for toddlers and adults. Therefore, although we continue to serve schools in need, our supply to other destinations,including Books to Prisoners, has been reduced.
"We are finding new sources of books but at substantially lower quantities. We continue to look for other sources of books in order to provide for our 400 non-profits. For example, Books to Prisoners is occasionally offered books that they cannot use. Andy has offered to divert those donations to us. In addition, Kris introduced us to the Bainbridge Island Community Garage sale.
"Our average receipt of books for the past years was about 1600 pounds of books per week. Now it is only about 200 pounds per week."
We checked back with Roger this week. He's optimistic about the future.
"Our book situation is slightly improved as we have three new sources. We cannot forecast how long it will take to fully recover to the rate of over 5000 boxes of books delivered per year. The trend line is improving, but slowly."
We asked him what he would say to anyone who wants to help him and Susan locate new sources.
"We particularly have a shortage in two categories of books. We need children’s books and we need foreign language books from regions at war or poverty (e.g. Russia/Ukraine, Arabic/Farsi/Pashto/Dari, Somali/Amharic, Spanish) which are generating many immigrants in this area. If you have access to books to donate, please contact Books to Prisoners.""