Community effort behind 30th Chilliwack Rotary Book Sale

‘We estimate that we’ve sold about $1 million in books over the 30 years,’ says chair Debora Soutar.

With brand-new bright orange donation bins

With brand-new bright orange donation bins

The books are boxed up, the metal crates are stacked, and the volunteers are ready.

It’s all in preparation for the 30th annual Chilliwack Rotary Book Sale which begins on Sunday and runs until next Saturday.

“Our annual book sale is huge,” says event chair Debora Soutar. “There are thousands and thousands of books, and most only cost a toonie.”

The keeners line up at 6 a.m. waiting for the doors to open at 7 a.m. on Sunday.

“There’s a lineup outside and it’s dark so you can’t see everyone,” explains Soutar. “Then they open the doors and it’s like ‘dollar forty-nine days’ where shoppers just swarm in. I love that part, it’s very exciting.”

Although 30 years ago the book sale was not as huge and popular as it is now, it was still a pretty big event. Ten thousand dollars was raised in its inaugural year.

Soutar was at one of the first Rotary book sales and has a clear memory of it.

“I remember going to one of the first ones in Cottonwood Mall and there was a National Geographic and it was a World War II copy with a picture of Hitler on the front. I though it was amazing.”

Thirty years ago, “we didn’t go to the book stores and buy books because it was too expensive, so buying from the book sale was great,” says Soutar.

Much like it is today, three decades ago it was still a community effort to put together the book sale.

Back then they transported the books using Jim Huitema’s milk truck, Iain Murray’s vehicle from Chilliwack Furniture World, John Blessin’s truck from Wagner Appliances, and Fred Hails’ Coast Office Equipment truck. Plus there were several pickup trucks used as well.

Now, Pioneer Buildall lends its flatbed truck to transport the many metal crates full of boxed-up books from the Rotary Services Building at Townsend Park to Chilliwack Mall. O’Connor lends its tow-truck to move the forklift, which is borrowed from Legacy Pacific.

One of the new things this year are the book-drop bins.

“Harry Mertin stepped up and they arranged for brand-new bins that are way higher quality. They arranged for them to be painted by staff, and Jonathan Milne did the decals.” The bins are “bright pumpkin orange,” says Soutar.

“You know when they say, ‘oh you can’t miss them’? Well this time you really can’t.”

Mertin Group even gave the metal-salvage cheque to Rotary after disposing of the old bins.

Plus there are donated things that some may not even think about.

“This year we have all new sign holders donated by Chilliwack Safeway,” adds Soutar. A total of 128 metal sign holders and a dolly were donated.

And of course, there are the people.

The volunteers consist not only of Rotarians themselves, but local high school students who will be filling 850 work hours over the course of the week.

“The students’ response outshines even the Rotarians,” says Soutar. “We really have to take our young people way more seriously. We hear a lot of things about young people, and they are always proven wrong to me in our town. It’s heartwarming and encouraging.”

In celebration of the anniversary, there will be an after-school birthday party one afternoon, followed by a book club night.

On Wednesday, Oct. 22 the community donations will keep coming as Christine’s Creative Cakes will be giving away cupcakes to the first hundred kids from 3 to 4 p.m. There will also be balloons.

The next day, on Thursday, community book clubs have been invited to the book sale for an evening together. Victor Froese will be taking group photos, plus there will be chocolate, selections of suggested books, and a prize draw.

Not every year is a huge success and celebration. A few years ago it was predicted, because of ebooks, that the book sale would die.

“There was a slump one year, and our sales were down,” says Soutar.

Later they realized that the drop in sales was due to the construction at Chilliwack Mall. It was at a time when old stores were gone, but the new ones had not yet opened.

This year there will be about 80,000 books for sale at the Rotary book sale, down a bit from previous years.

“We’ve reduced the volume purposely to maintain the quality of books. Our guideline is: ‘would I buy this book myself or, would I give it as a gift?’”

Any badly damaged books are recycled. Others that can still be used, but can’t be sold at the sale, are sent overseas to the Philippines.

Some children’s books stay in the community. The club donates 4,000 children’s books to local literacy programs.

“We estimate that we’ve sold about $1 million in books over the 30 years,” says Soutar.

All of the money is spent on international projects like polio eradication, and building wells and schools in underdeveloped countries. Locally, it’s put towards the Rotary Trail, breakfast programs, and scholarships to name a few.

And for those who end up buying books at the Chilliwack Rotary Book Sale that sit for years on their shelf without being read?

“You don’t feel guilty if you don’t read it because it’s only a two-dollar book,” says Soutar.

Book donations can be put in the book-drop bins at the Rotary Services Building at Townsend Park year-round. Large donations can be dropped off Mondays from 7 to 9 p.m. and Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m. when Rotarians are at the building sorting books.

The Chilliwack Rotary Book Sale runs Oct. 19 to 25 at the Chilliwack Mall. Hours are: Oct. 19 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Oct. 20-22 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Oct. 23 and 24 from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Oct. 25 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.