In just one month, Bethany Beach Books has shipped more than 500 pounds of gently used books to people serving in the armed forces.
Amanda Zirn, media relations coordinator for the store, said the store’s staff decided to embrace the project after speaking with a local woman whose son is serving on the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman.
“We learned that books are desperately needed for those serving overseas,” she explained.
Zirn said that, after announcing on Jan. 2 their intent to collect books, the store was overwhelmed with hundreds of donations.
“It’s been an overwhelming response from the community. We had a church in Frankford who donated half of their library to the cause. Atlantic Community Thrift Shop and some other thrift stores nearby have donated. So many people who we’ve never seen before have donated books.”
Bethany Beach Books has since partnered with Operation Paperback, a non-profit organization that also collects gently used books nationwide and sends them to American troops overseas, as well as veterans and military families back at home.
“They provide all the addresses for us,” said Zirn of Operation Paperback. “Troops can sign up for free, choose what genres they’d like to read, and just provide their mailing address.”
Although the non-profit provides the store with mailing addresses, Zirn said the bookstore would prefer to receive addresses from the community, so that they can reach out to local troops serving abroad.
“Local troops are bumped to the top of the list,” she said.
“One of the beauties is that it goes directly to that serviceperson. These boxes are going to Iraq, Afghanistan, ships in the middle of the ocean,” added Lesley Shuey, who works at the store.
Zirn said the store requests that all donated books include a personalized message to the troops who will receive the packages.
“It could be a handwritten or typed: ‘Thank you for your service,’ or ‘Thinking of you,’” she said.
Numerous notes on the books already collected are from retired veterans who have served themselves, who “understand what it’s like,” said Zirn.
“We know how important and, at times, lonely your service can be. We are a retired Navy family who has known relocation, deployments, loneliness all rolled up into the pride of serving one’s country,” wrote Capt. Thomas Defibaugh, who’s retired from the Medical Service Corps of the U.S. Navy, and his wife. “Thanks for being a patriot and warrior for freedom.”
“Some of the notes are really heartfelt,” said Zirn. “You would think they were written to someone they knew personally. It’s really been touching.”
Currently, the store is seeking donations of crime and mystery novels, as well as historical and biographical books. However, Zirn said all donations will be accepted and used, even if they cannot be sent overseas.
Zirn said the store is working with Homer James of American Legion Post #28, who is also collecting books for veterans.
“He’s establishing a library for the Legion and also for the Home of the Brave. So he takes all of the books that we can’t ship for whatever reason, which is great because even if they are written in — ‘Thank you for your service’ — those who have served still receive that message.”
Zirn said that the store is sending out at least two boxes of books a day but has yet to hear from any of the service members who have received the packages, as it takes three to four weeks for them to receive them.
She added that she hopes that, one day, when they’re back in the States, they might consider visiting Bethany Beach.
“Inside every book, we put a Bethany Beach bookmark. We’re really wondering if any of them will see the bookmarks and maybe come here one day,” she said. “I’m really anxious to get feedback from the troops who are receiving these. A lot of the customers who drop them off, we tell them to write in the books where they’re from. I can only imagine how many of the men and women look and go, ‘Where’s Delaware?’ If anything, they’re learning where Delaware is.”
Due to the overwhelming support from the community, Zirn said the store has no plans to stop the project and will continue it, she hopes, into the summer months.
Shuey said they hope the community continues to embrace the project and bring a little hope and support to those serving.
“The enthusiasm that people who bring the books have… There was a gentleman whose wife had seen the blurb about it and then he went around his community and collected three big boxes,” she said. “It’s just a trickle-down effect.”
Bethany Beach Books is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is located at 99 Garfield Parkway in downtown Bethany Beach. For more information, visit www.bethanybeachnooks.com, call (302) 539-2522, or email Zirn at Amanda@bethanybeachbooks.com.