Winter Institute Book Drive Collects Thousands of Titles for Refugees

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Beginning at the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute 14 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, booksellers, publishers, and authors have donated thousands of books for the “Libros Para el Viaje” (“Books for the Journey”) book drive, which are now being distributed to families, individuals, parents, and children who are arriving at the southern U.S. border from Mexico, Central America, and South America.

Winter Institute attendees were asked to donate new or gently used Spanish-language books of all genres and for all ages; ABA also contributed 50 Spanish-language books to the effort. The idea for the drive originated with Denise Chávez, owner of Casa Camino Real Book Store and Art Gallery in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Since summer 2018, Chávez has been distributing books to refugees in her hometown of Las Cruces via Peace Lutheran Church, under the direction of the Border Servant Corps (BSC) refugee hospitality center.

Chávez shared an update with Bookselling This Week about her journey so far, from joining ABA staff at the ABA Welcome Desk to collect the books at the institute, and then once home working with local volunteers to distribute the books to refugees staying at the local hospitality centers. Many of these refugees have arrived from larger hospitality centers that assist reunited families detained and separated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

According to Chávez, Albuquerque’s Fonseca Freight Company delivered the books to Las Cruces for free the day after Winter Institute ended. In addition, Las Cruces’ Sisbarro Car Dealership donated a warm, carpeted space to store every single box of books until they are all distributed. On January 28, the Monday after Winter Institute, Chávez began working with volunteers to sort the books.

Starting January 30, Chávez and volunteers from local aid organizations, including Annunciation House and the Hope Border Institute, distributed the books at hospitality centers, such as El Calvario Methodist Church and Peace Lutheran, and have continued to do so at various other centers. Chávez said she believes that, counting all of the books that have continued to be delivered to her store following Winter Institute via other independent bookstores, publishers, literary organizations, and individual donors across the country, the drive has already collected thousands of books, perhaps close to 2,500 or more. 

Said Chávez, “I have to say the books have been phenomenal; they have continued to arrive. I would say the book drive is fully alive and well, if only because things are so bad here on the border. The refugees’ status is very bleak. But what I want to say to the booksellers is, you have no idea what a book means to these young children or to these adults. Thank you very, very much.”

Denise Chavez with boxes

Here, Chávez stands with the many boxes of books donated by booksellers, publishers, and other industry attendees at ABA's Winter Institute in Albuquerque this past January.

Book donations

Some of the books collected by Libros Para el Viaje as they are organized during the unpacking process.

Book donations

Book donations

More donations

Volunteer for donations

Volunteer Leonel Garza from Annunciation House

Volunteer for book donations

Volunteers Daniel Zolinsky, Chávez's husband and fellow bookseller, and Juliet Kinikin. Other volunteers came from Annunciation House, the Border Servant Corps, and El Calvario Methodist Church.

Book donations

Book donations

Libros PEV Donations

Regarding the two photos below, Chávez wrote, "Here are a few photos I took today at El Calvario Methodist Church. I did a storytelling session, reading from my children's book The Woman Who Knew the Language of the Animals/La Mujer Que Sabía La Idioma de Los Animales, and afterward we distributed books to adults, teens, and children. The photos today are of young men reading on their makeshift cots after arriving from the detention center in El Paso. They are headed to their sponsor families. Lia, a volunteer at El Calvario Methodist Church, is reading to a young boy. I wish I'd taken a picture of the table and everyone hovering and happy."Reading at El Calvario

Lia reading

The two photos below were taken by Daniel Zolinsky.

.Denise reading

Child reading

Chávez also noted that the store recently hosted a pop-up book sale at Milagro Coffee y Espresso, a coffee shop in Las Cruces, to raise money to benefit the book drive. On February 22, Casa Camino Real will also be hosting a group of 27 students from Wardlaw-Hartridge School, a high school in New Jersey, to work on the book drive.

BTW readers who would like to donate more Spanish-language books are encouraged to mail them to Chávez at La Casa Camino Real, 314 South Tornillo Street, Las Cruces, New Mexico 88001; particularly needed at the moment are Spanish-English dictionaries and any books that help with learning English, including bilingual books. Prior to the book drive, Chávez created this list of guidelines for booksellers, authors, and publishers for choosing Spanish-language books. In addition, Veronica Liu, founder of Word Up Community Bookshop in Washington Heights, New York, and BrocheAroe Fabian, owner of River Dog Book Co. bookmobile in Wisconsin, offered their own lists of Spanish-language book suggestions, now posted on BookWeb. Liu, Fabian, and Chávez are all founding members of ABA’s Diversity Task Force.
While Chávez currently has a record of the more than 25 national and international booksellers and publishers who donated books to the cause, she is asking anyone who did not get a chance to give their name when dropping off their books at the Winter Institute desk to please e-mail her at [email protected] in order to receive a thank-you message. In the meantime, Chávez said she will be continuously posting photos of the book donations as they come in on the ABA Diversity Task Force's Facebook page.
Finally, anyone who would like to make a financial donation to help refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border can visit the Annunciation House or the Border Servant Corps websites.