Many children in southern Africa have never held a book, while many schools and libraries in Wisconsin discard used books every year.  Since 2007,  the Madison Breakfast Rotary Club has sponsored the Wisconsin operation of Books for the World, a national Rotary literacy program that keeps these discarded books out of landfills, and instead puts them into the hands of teachers and children in countries in southern Africa that lack educational resources.  The overall goal of the Rotary Books for the World program is to enhance literacy while promoting Rotary’s ideal of international understanding.

 

On January 30, 2012, Madison Breakfast Rotary (MBR) shipped its one millionth pound of books.  To celebrate that major milestone, MBR hosted a reception and open house to thank the many volunteers, supporters and corporate sponsors of the book project.  In attendance were Barb and Charlie Clemmons from the Rotary Club of Seabrook, Texas who created the Books for the World program about 12 years ago in Houston with the cooperation of Rotarians in South Africa; District Governor Chuck Hanson, and several other visiting Rotarians;  owners or representatives of businesses that have provided valuable services to the projects (such as warehouse space, trucking services, pallets, boxes and packing materials);  individuals, corporations and foundations that provided financial support; representatives from schools and libraries that donated books; and the many volunteers who helped sort and pack books.

 

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The Wisconsin Books for the World Program had its humble beginning in early 2005 in the basement of the home of Carol Dombroski, a retired McFarland school teacher.  Based on the success of that effort, the project was adopted by the Madison Breakfast Rotary Club in 2007.  The program has expanded exponentially over the years, and now occupies 4,500 square feet of donated warehouse space.  On January 30, 2012, it shipped its one millionth pound of books.

 

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Books are collected from schools, colleges, libraries and individuals, and brought to the warehouse in Middleton where they are sorted, boxed, palletized and shrink-wrapped before being loaded onto a semi-trailer bound for a national shipping center in Houston, Texas, where they are combined with similar shipments from other participating Rotary clubs in the U.S. and loaded into sea containers bound for countries in southern Africa, Central and South America, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.  Sorting and packing of the books at the warehouse in Middleton are done by MBR members, high school and college volunteers, corporate-sponsored volunteers and community volunteers.  In 2011, more than 2,000 hours were contributed by about 525 local volunteers.  Over 500 tons of books have been collected since 2005, with an estimated value of $10 million.  In 2011 alone, over 100,000 books (or about 150 tons) were collected. 

 

At every step of the collection and packing process, care is taken that all books are productively utilized.   The program has expanded from the original goal of text books for school children and teachers, to also include reading materials for hospital patients, the elderly, and prisoners, as well as other educational materials like computers, overhead projectors, school desks and chairs.

 

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The Madison Breakfast Club has fewer than 25 members.  With its small size, it would have been difficult to achieve this major milestone of a million pounds shipped in such a relatively short period without help from its local and international friends.  The in-kind donations, grants, gifts of cash and hours of volunteer help provided by club members, friends, organizations, corporations, and Rotary International and other local, national and international Rotary clubs made it possible for a small club to realize big dreams.   

 

For more information about the book project, contact Carol Dombroski at carol.d@charter.net.