With the incredible support from many of you, the extraordinary commitment of Senator Chris Murphy and Kenny Curran from the Senator's office, and the indispensable wisdom and work of Read to Grow Executive Director Suzannah Holsenbeck, along with an army of volunteers, we have distributed over 30,000 books to kids in New Haven, Bridgeport, and Norwalk. In addition, we will be distributing almost another 10,000 books in Waterbury and Middletown in the coming weeks.
Click here to read an update: Dear Reader: Good News and More! (April 5, 2020)
In response to our appeal for your help last week, we raised $35,000 for kids in New Haven. You cannot imagine our gratitude - what an amazing community!
Over the last 30 years, I have received thousands of comments, notes, letters, and emails raving about our staff, both individually and as a whole. Bookselling is not the most highly compensated career yet I have watched our hardworking staff be passionate and committed to the belief that reading and books and words are how we as humans thrive and experience joy. They inspire me every day.
Like many small business owners, I have lost sleep these last few days worrying about how we can continue to keep our 70 employees, in two locations, employed as sales plummet by 60 to 70%. In addition, I'm keenly aware of how many families will lose access to books because schools and libraries are closed.
Middle of the night sleeplessness is custom made for solutions and ideas, and I think I've found a way to solve both of these challenges, creating revenue so we can keep a core group of our staff employed AND get books to kids who do not otherwise have access to books in their homes. As a friend recently wrote to me, “A new book, while the world is cracked open and we recreate our lives, can be transforming, healing, and formative.”
So here is my middle-of-the-night idea:
Currently about 3,500 students/residents in New Haven are picking up meals daily for their families. We have every indication these numbers will grow. In addition, some families in need are using local food pantries. Why not make books available to these families at the same time and place?
If lots of you—say hundreds or even thousands of you—buy $100 or $200 of books for these families, we will start by organizing with New Haven schools and food pantries to distribute these books, and then move on to Bridgeport students. Also, since Read to Grow will assist us, as they also regularly provide books to families in need, we will donate 10% of whatever we raise to Read to Grow.
This means that our core staff remains employed selecting, ordering, receiving, and sorting these books. And, of course, they will continue to be available to help you choose the right book via text or email or phone, still providing the unique suggestions and recommendations you've come to love and need during this uneasy time.
I do believe during tough times we are and strive to be our best selves. There are too many problems to count from this pandemic—we are just one little piece. I wish we could solve every one of the disasters popping up! Forunately, many of you are looking for ways to be helpful and this is just one way. Let's help families who are coping with unprecedented hardship have the spark of wonder, escape, and adventure. Books provide the motivation to dream, to learn, and to believe. Even a small step saves someone, makes a difference, and shows our humanity to each other.
Please purchase books for New Haven and/or Bridgeport children (below), which will be distributed at "school lunch" pick-ups and local pantries. Our goal is to have at least one thousand community members participate, but regardless of participation level, you can be assured that we will get books to kids. Let's make this happen.
I will write to you periodically not only to update you on our progress and the mechanics of getting this done (for instance, we may need volunteers for delivery) but also about what we are working on “in the store,” what we are reading or rereading, and how we're staying focused during this time of uncertainty. We are all finding our way.
We continue to be here to help and we know we can count on your support and good wishes. Thank you.
Stay healthy and stay in touch.
Roxanne J. Coady
Founder, RJ Julia Booksellers
P.S. Please see the recent article in Publisher's Weekly: RJ Julia Saves Staff by Giving Away $150,000 in Books (April 9,2020/Alex Green)