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When Alexandria resident Stephen Hersey, 45, was growing up, his mother was a teacher in a lower-income school system in Massachusetts.

“I would see her going to yard sales and flea markets, trying to buy books with her own money for her classroom,” he said. Hersey said that memory became his inspiration in 2002 to found Books for America, a nonprofit organization that provides free books to teachers, homeless shelters and others who may not be able to afford to buy books or have easy access to public libraries, such as prisoners.

“Our mission is to promote literacy, lifelong learning and understanding by distributing donated new and used books of all types; movies; music and instructional compact discs; audiobooks and other forms of media to organizations serving economically, socially or physically disadvantaged communities and individuals,” Hersey said.

The organization, based in Fairfax in a warehouse on Pickett Road, accepts all book donations and will pick them up.

It also has just added 13 new collection bins throughout Northern Virginia, at shopping centers owned by Federal Realty Investment Trust, including properties in McLean, Vienna, Mount Vernon and Falls Church.

Bins are located in many well-known shopping center parking lots, such as Barcroft Plaza, Mount Vernon Plaza, Chesterbrook, Idylwood Plaza, Falls Plaza, Pike 7 Plaza, Leesburg Plaza, Tower Shopping Center, Tysons Station, Pan Am Shopping Center, Loehmann’s Plaza and Old Keene Mill Shopping Center.

Until now, the organization has focused its collection efforts on Washington, D.C., residents, but with the prominent placement of the new bins, Books for America is excited that many of the more than one million residents of Fairfax and Loudoun counties will know that Books for America exists and that the organization is seeking book donations from local residents.

“I’ve always loved books, and am fortunate to have come from an environment where reading was encouraged,” Hersey said. ”I know the value and the power of books, but I also know that a painfully high number of people in the local area simply don’t have access to good books, or oftentimes, to any books at all.”

Hersey says the 501(c)3 charity sells about half the number of books that it receives to cover organizational expenses and donates the rest. The organization runs a used bookstore in Dupont Circle in the District, where it sells the books. Last year, the organization had revenues approaching $1 million, according to Hersey.

“We are self-sufficient and do not receive any outside funding,” Hersey said. “Simply put, the more books we collect, the more reading libraries we will be able to build and improve in local schools, shelters and many other organizations. Thousands of kids will benefit from the books we will collect at these new donation locations.”

Julie Easer is the principal at Westgate Elementary School in Falls Church. She said teachers at her school are pleased with the fact that they can receive books from the charity. “We have about three to four teachers that go to the Books for America warehouse every year and pick out books that they then use to enhance their classroom libraries,” she said. “They love it, and donations are huge in this economy. They always tell me that they find good quality books that are of high interest to kids, which is always a good thing to promote reading.”

Hersey said he is always glad to hear that the organization is providing quality books for those who need them.

“We have been headquartered in Fairfax for at least seven years but we are much better known in the District because of the store there,” Hersey said. “We hope that with our new collection bin expansion that we can get our name out there in Fairfax, and eventually pull in enough book donations to open a store in Fairfax by 2014.”

For more information, go to www.booksforamerica.org.



gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com