Moving 200,000 books isn’t an easy task, but through the goodwill and team work of several organizations, that’s exactly what happened in an unprecedented donation of James Patterson’s own books to the United States Armed Forces.
“Everybody involved had to roll up their sleeves,” said Patterson in a conversation with PW. “A lot of men and women will get a book and a feeling that people over here are thinking about them.” Sabrina Callahan, associate director of publicity for Little, Brown, said the process took several months, “just in getting everyone on board and finding the best places to send the books. At the last minute we realized we needed more trucks, and the fine people of Feed the Children came to our rescue in transporting additional quantities.” As a result, the books are now either on their way or have already been delivered to U.S. troops at domestic bases and in Afghanistan.
The beginning of the donation goes back to a call made by Marty Conroy, a former sales rep at Hachette, to Ned Rust, who has co-written a number of books with Patterson and is also his sales and marketing director. Conroy knew of Patterson’s ongoing support of the troops (he has donated 30,000 books since 2006), and told Rust about Books for Heroes, a nonprofit started by George Scott, co-owner of Peerless Book Store in Alpharetta, Ga., which has sent more than 20,000 books to U.S. troops.
Rust asked Scott how many books he could take. Scott responded by saying, “How many do you have?” and Rust gave him a number: 130,000. Scott, feeling bullish, countered with a number of his own: 200,000.
From there, the help started rolling in, turning the number into a reality. Robert Lebus, CEO of Pennsylvania-based shipper Transource, took 33,000 books from Indiana to California, where partner Operation Gratitude will distribute them. Feed the Children joined the cause by taking on 100,000 of the books in its facilities in Elkhart, Ind.; Oklahoma City; Houston; and Nashville, to be delivered to military support groups. Laspada Enterprises, a trucking company, also volunteered its services. A local Kroger loaned a forklift to Books for Heroes, and Peerless Book Store’s shopping center has loaned storage space for some of the 62,000 books in Alpharetta. Nineteen volunteer JROTC members showed up at the Books for Heroes storage space to help unload the books as they arrived, before being distributed to Afghanistan, V.A. hospitals, and U.S. military bases. For the latter, 10 bases were selected to receive a few thousand books each, with Fort Benning in Georgia already receiving its shipment.
The donation has personal meaning to all of the organizations that have pulled together for its execution. Patterson has a friend who served as a captain in Vietnam, whose son in turn became a captain in Iraq, and saw the donation as a gesture of gratitude to both. “There are certain things we can’t do,” said Patterson. “We can’t solve the economic crisis. But this is something I felt I could do to help.”
For Scott, the donation is the largest in an ongoing personal mission that goes back to 2003, when a customer came into the Waldenbooks where he was a manager and bought $96 worth of magazines and asked for a box to put them in. When Scott found out where the magazines were going, he began doing it himself, soliciting donations (writers like Michael Connelly, who sends a box of his books to Scott “every few months”) and putting all the money toward postage, even as his living room piled up with books. Scott temporarily stopped the project in 2007 because “it pretty much broke my wife and me,” but restarted Books for Heroes in 2009 as a nonprofit, asking friends for donations. His efforts, for now, have culminated in the donation of the Patterson books.
“It’s only because of those involved who have been so incredibly supportive,” Scott said. “Publishers, customers, people I’ve never met. It’s just truly amazing.”
To make a donation to Books for Heroes, contact George Scott, firstname.lastname@example.org