Santa Buys Local

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This holiday season, thanks to a philanthropic individual who recognizes the value of supporting local independent businesses, Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Montana, will provide 2,600 books to be distributed free to children in the Bitterroot Valley. Local resident Charlie Jerke, with the support of contributions from area businesses, has given books to children in the local school system for the past three years, and he has always insisted that the books be ordered from Chapter One.

"We were approached by Santa Claus [aka Jerke] a few years ago, and he said he wanted to spread some Christmas cheer," said Shawn Wathen, Chapter One's co-owner with ABA President Russ Lawrence and his wife, Jean Matthews. Jerke, who dresses up like Santa at Christmas and has a full white beard year round, asked if the bookstore would order about 900 age-appropriate titles for children from kindergarten through fifth grade that he would then dispense himself. In addition to wanting to support literacy, "he wanted to support his local independent bookstore," explained Wathen. Chapter One's owners, who were happy to help, sold the books to Jerke at a significant discount and boxed the books by grade for ease of delivery.

Wathen picks out the titles, including Newbery Award-winners; classics for older kids, like Call of the Wild, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland; and for younger kids, books like The Wind in the Willows and Clifford the Big Red Dog. He typically provides 25 to 30 separate titles per class, so kids can trade once they have finished their books.

The project's first two years were so successful that this year Jerke decided to expand operations and buy books for children throughout the entire Bitterroot Valley -- 2,600 books. Since Jerke was buying in such large quantity, volunteers suggested that he order from a wholesaler or online, but he insisted on working with Chapter One. "Part of the significance for him is that it's a local community effort," explained Wathen. "He focuses on local schools, gets local funding, and wants to work with his local independent bookstore to celebrate Christmas locally."

Wathen also reported that Bitterroot's own St. Nick of Literacy doesn't just drop off boxes at the schools. "He likes to hand each kid a book. It takes time. He's just been a joy to work with because his heart is really in this. It's all about getting books into the hands of these kids." --Karen Schechner