Darien nonprofit ships free books around the world

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

It’s just a typical day at Darien Book Aid Plan when volunteer Kitty Graves opens an email from a woman in Uganda.

“She is the chapter leader for an organization called Kids for Peace. She wants to set up a children’s library there,” Graves said. “She is concerned with children learning how to read.”

Graves is one of several dozen volunteers for Darien Book Aid Plan, Inc., a nonprofit organization that ships free books around the world.

Its mission is building a foundation of peace, understanding, and friendship by distributing free books, according to Book Aid Plan’s president Harry McLachlin.

Founded in 1949 by a Darien resident, the organization, which is at 1926 Post Road, receives funding from private contributors.

Operating year-round, “We send books to 20 to 30 countries,” McLachlin said.

Places where books are shipped include Macedonia, Albania, the Ukraine, Africa, South Africa, Morocco, Ghana, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Romania, as well as Latin America, Kenya, the Philippines, and Pakistan.

Book Aid Plan gets requests from Peace Corps volunteers who are teaching English, as well as from libraries, prisons, community centers and schools worldwide, and Native American and Appalachian groups in the United States.

Books are not sent to individuals.

All correspondence with Book Aid Plan takes place through email.

“The woman from Kids for Peace started her library with one book. They now have nine books and hope to get more,” said Graves, of Westport, who has been volunteering for Book Aid Plan for about 12 years.

Graves said she will be sending about 25 pounds of books to the woman.  

Book Aid Plan receives about 1,000 books a week and ships out a few dozen boxes each month.

Book Aid Plan ships three categories of books: foreign, domestic, and Peace Corps.

“Last year, we sent close to 6,000 pounds of books to 57 countries, making 213 shipments — and that’s only for foreign shipments,” McLachlin said.

“Our fiscal year started May 1 and as of the present time, I have received 180 requests,” Graves said.

During the week, books accumulate in the lobby of Book Aid Plan, which is open 24-7.

“We also get books from book sales,” McLachlin said. “We stay at the end of book sales and get to take home free books that didn’t sell.”

The groups or organizations tell Book Aid Group the kinds of books they need “and we match their request up to the books that come in,” Graves said.  

Currently, the biggest need is children’s books, especially chapter books for middle school age children.

However, adult books are also welcome, especially fiction.

The types of requests Book Aid Plan receives range in terms of age groups and reading level.

“We also make sure to send culturally appropriate books,” McLaughlin said. For example, he said he wouldn’t send children in a struggling country books about iPods.

People will bring in shopping bags and boxes of books, and Book Plan Aid volunteers spend a lot of time sorting through them, selecting the ones they can use.

Books should be in good condition, McLachlin said.

Books that are not used are sent to a wholesaler.

The biggest item on the budget is shipping. “It costs $3 to ship a pound of books and approximately $60 to ship a box of books,” he said.

Paperback books are preferred over hardcover since they’re lighter and therefore less expensive to ship.

Book Aid Plan only makes one shipment a year to the same organization or group.

There is currently a backlog of book requests. Since it takes some time to match the requests to the books that come in, it can take two or three months to ship them.

“We are always looking for volunteers,” McLachlin said. “They can come whenever they are available.”

Volunteers at Book Aid Plan are from all stages of life including retirees and high schoolers, according to McLachlin.

“We get wonderful thank-you letters, cards and pictures from people whose horizons have been greatly expanded from the books,” McLachlin said. “We have stacks of them.”

On the Friends of Darien Book Aid Plan Facebook page, many thank-you notes are shared. One is from Paea Schaumkel, an English teacher in Tonga, who wrote, “Tropical Cyclone Ian destroyed the library in 2014. I have to say I am speechless. The books are here and we are very happy with them. OFA LAHI ATU (Much much love).”

Another thank-you letter is from Kara Venzian, a Peace Corps volunteer stationed at a remote outer island of Fiji, who received her box of books.  

“Because of our remoteness, we tend to have very limited resources, even in the schools. Our school has 78 students in attendance and is a boarding school called Sawau District School. Yay! We finally received the books we have patiently been anticipating! Our kids love them! We are so grateful for everything you’ve done for Sawau District School Library!

Vinaka vakalevu (thank you very much in the native language).”

“It’s enormously gratifying,” Graves said, in regard to volunteering for Darien Book Aid Plan.

“All over the world, people are desperate to learn to read,” Graves said. “There is this great hunger for knowledge. People in the developing world need books, and they need books in English.”

For more information, visit darienbookaid.org, Friends of darienbookaid on Facebook, or send an email to darienbookaid@yahoo.com.