A guest post from Jen Blood:
In 2010, retired schoolteacher Ellen Keegan was volunteering for an organization that sent care packages to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. When she realized that books were not included in those care packages, Ellen—a lifelong reader who spent much of her teaching career working to instill a love of the written word in her students—immediately wanted to know why. The response, by and large, was that soldiers simply had no need of books. Ellen, of course, found this both incomprehensible and a little naïve. She remembered a year when she had been ill herself, and the relief novels had given her during her convalescence. Now, four years later, Ellen says, “I thought, ‘who more than the troops could benefit from this same source of escape?’”
Shortly thereafter, Ellen recruited four neighbors in her small town of Halfmoon, New York, moved her car out of her garage, and borrowed tables, books, and money from friends and family. The first twenty boxes of books under the name Books for Troops were shipped from that garage later that same year. Soon, word spread of the work Ellen was doing. Features were written; donations were made; more books came in. Thank you letters from soldiers around the world began arriving, expressing gratitude for the books she was sending.
“It’s nice to escape our very complicated existence into a world where the good guys always win and all the questions are answered by the end of the book,” wrote one soldier, listed on the Books for Troops website as Captain Micah.
Not surprisingly, it turned out that soldiers did, in fact, have need of books.
In its four years of existence, Books for Troops has sent tens of thousands of books to soldiers
overseas, as well as to troops in eighteen VA hospitals and to the American Red Cross’ Wounded Warriors’ programs. Parents deployed overseas are sent children’s books that they can read to little ones over Skype, or by recording on DVDs through a new military program, United Through Reading. Comic books, graphic novels, fiction, nonfiction, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, and romance… All have found their way to soldiers around the world through Ellen’s amazing organization, which became a registered 501(c)3 non-profit in April of 2012.
Recently, Ellen noticed that the books finding their way to her donation boxes were in less-than-stellar condition… Old textbooks, torn and ragged paperbacks, and old magazines that clearly should have been in the recycling bin were being discarded in the Books for Troops boxes. For this reason, she pulled the donation boxes for the month of January.
I learned of Books for Troops through the online grapevine, and immediately fell in love with the work that Ellen has been doing. As a writer with a network consisting of a multitude of other writers across the genres, I knew that one thing we authors usually have in common is that we invariably have at least a few spare, new copies of our own work lying around. I started to think of what it might mean to soldiers to receive a new book signed by the author, along with a personal message of encouragement letting them know that we are thinking of them, and that we appreciate the sacrifices they’ve made.
I contacted Ellen Keegan in January to find out if she would be interested in a book drive specifically
focused on authors donating signed, new or gently used copies of the books they have written. Would this be something the troops would appreciate? Ellen’s response was an enthusiastic, unequivocal “Yes!” I volunteered to organize the book drive myself, reaching out to my network of writing peers for signed, new or gently used copies of their work. The response has been overwhelming, with children’s books, comics, novels, and nonfiction arriving from around the country, all signed by the authors. The messages inside are heartfelt and, I hope, will bring a smile to the faces of the men and women who risk their lives in the armed forces every day.
If you are an author and would like to donate one or more signed copies of your novel to the Authors for Troops book drive, I would love to include your work. Everything from mysteries to nonfiction to graphic novels, comics, and children’s books, are all welcome. You can find out specifics about where to send the books by visiting http://jenblood.net/authors-for-troops/. And if you are not an author but would like to learn more about Books for Troops and how you can help this great organization, visit the Books for Troops website at http://booksfortroopscp.webs.com/. The organization is currently in need of donations to help cover postage for shipments overseas, and is also hoping to find a new work space in Halfmoon, New York. Any help you can give is always very much appreciated!
Kate Flora adds: If you also have books signed by other authors that are in good condition, you can send those to Jen as well.
Bio: Jen Blood is a freelance journalist, bestselling author of the Erin Solomon mysteries, and editor of the digital magazine The Trib, a quarterly foray into all things mystery, mayhem, and Maine. While she has lived on a farm in Oregon, in a former elementary school in Kentucky, and just about everywhere in the state of Maine, she is currently settled in the midcoast, busily working on the next Erin Solomon novel.