Loads of books, loads of patience at Times Colonist Book Drive

Thousands of books replaced thousands of tourists as generous Victorians dropped off donations at the Breakwater District at Ogden Point for this year’s Times Colonist Book Drive on Saturday.

The book drive is an annual literacy fundraiser, with proceeds from the sale of donated books going toward literacy-related programs on Vancouver Island.

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In a typical year, the collection is followed by a book sale open to the public. That is not possible this year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Russell Books has agreed to pay for all of the donated books.

That will mean a healthy boost to the Times Colonist Literacy Society fundraising efforts, and the money will be distributes among about 180 beneficiaries, mainly schools.

“We are honoured to have such an enduring relationship with the Times Colonist in advocating for literacy programs in Victoria,” said Andrea Minter, who manages Russell Books with her husband, Jordan. “I can’t say enough about the devoted volunteers that the book drive attracts.”

The one-day drive collected about 85 pallets of books. Stacked two metres high, each pallet can contain about 500 books.

“It was a busy morning and steady all afternoon,” said Mark Taylor, lead volunteer co-ordinator for the event.

He said that there was a lineup of people, some waiting more than an hour, first thing in the morning.

“Everyone has been really kind, patient and understanding,” said Brian Cant, manager of communications at the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, which donated the use of its facility.

“While that is usually the norm for Victorians, it’s nice to see that it hasn’t changed due to the pandemic.”

He estimated there were 250 cars waiting at the gates at 9 a.m. for the event to start. Working in traffic control, he directed close to 2,000 vehicles by noon.

Donors were greeted by about 100 volunteers, who worked with proper social distancing and with protective gear.

This little army directed traffic, unloaded cars and packed books on pallets.

For some, this was like a reuinion.

“I usually work in the literature and poetry section,” said Marilyn Brown, who was directing traffic instead. “It’s not because I like the subject. It’s because I really like the people I work with in that section. They are friends I get to see for two weeks every year.”

Volunteers this year included employees of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, members of the Victoria Cruise Industry Alliance, as well as employees of bus companies and pedicab operators. In an ordinary year, this group would be be busy welcoming visitors to Victoria.

“Hosting the book drive drop-off event here is an opportunity for us to show off our facilities to Victorians who would never come down this way,” Cant said.

The people who came all seemed happy to be there, with many drivers mouthing “thank you” through their windows, smiling or a giving friendly wave to traffic marshals as they departed.

“It’s so nice to see the volunteers stepping up and coming out,” said Lena Kobylarz after dropping off some books. “It didn’t take long and the line moved along.”

Annie Boldt, who has donated to the drive in previous years, said she was not surprised there was a long line of vehicles, even with the pandemic.

“With people in lockdown due to COVID-19, it probably gave them more time to clear out their unwanted books.”

parrais@timescolonist.com

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