Each hot and muggy June, Friends of the Library of Hawaii becomes a loose-knit but fervent ‘ohana with hundreds of volunteers focused on one goal: to sell donated books, recorded works and even artworks to raise money for the state’s 50 libraries.
Over the course of two weeks (set-up time followed by the hectic sale and then the breakdown), the volunteers talk story, discover common bonds, share books (we are our best customers) and revive relationships that, for many, are but a once-a-year-occurrence. Books that are not sold are donated to needy library systems elsewere, or held for later sale online if they have collectible value.
At the core of this impressive operation are year-round volunteers, who put in regular weekly shifts, pricing, sorting and packing books. Each is responsible for a particular subject area and each has a phenomenal memory of our stock and a loving, protective attitude toward their “babies.”
With them are paid staff who put in copious amounts of “volunteer” hours themselves, led by executive director Nainoa Mau and his energetic staff.
Board members, and past board members, who are unpaid, rise to the all-hands-on-deck occasion, led by co-chairs Stephanie Rezents, Nobu Kiwada and their committee.
And the food crew, co-chaired by food writer Wanda Adams (that would be me) and chef Lock Beth Eguchi, keep the workers happy with made-from-scratch meals. Donors, including Nalo Farms, Hawaii Food Alliance, Kahai Street Kitchen, Roberts Hawaii, LaTour Bakery, Foodland, and Whole Foods Market, provide a steady stream of ingredients and plate or box lunches.
Committee member Maia Rosen was invaluable last year in bringing Hawaii Foodservice Alliance on board to donate 50 loaves of bread, and in linking us up again with caterer Angela Gonzalo of That Girl Can Cook.
The sale is an annual devotion-fest. For example, volunteer Debra Yuen takes an entire week off from work to help with the sale each year just because she enjoys it.
Volunteers have many reasons for supporting the sale: retired librarians recycle their skills; they love the shopping, amassing bags and boxes of books during their down-time; everyone loves sitting in the air-conditioned teachersʻ lounge, nibbling and talk-talk-talking — about children and grandchildren, books to read and places to go, the changing library system and other topics of mutual interest.
It’s heartening to see the youngest volunteers — teens from various organizations, such as Punahou’s Key Club — interacting with their elders, listening to anecdotes about the old days or sharing their own enthusiasms with interested but sometime puzzled seniors. (“What is this thing with vampires?,” one volunteer whispered to another after a teen enthusiastically described a favorite new book. "What's 'Twilight," another asked.
The cooks love their work, too. Between chopping and serving, we had half a hundred conversations about small-kid-time foods, with volunteers joining in. Remember dipping green mango in Kool-Aid powder? Remember putting ketchup on avocados, then known as “pears,” (because alligator pear is another name for the brittle-skinned avocado)?
We told book sale stories. My favorite is the one about the guy I met standing in line to get into the members-only preview night. He was reviewing a long computer print-out: the names of every book he owned. On another length of paper was his wish list, compiled throughout the year, when he heard of a book he wanted to read. I confided that I was looking for a particular food text and he promised to watch for it during his volunteer shifts. He did so, found the book and called me to come pick it up. Never saw the guy again. That’s the camaraderie of the book sale for you.
Last year, visitors found a new Curiosities Corner, bringing together oddball titles that don’t quite fit anywhere else, and a gallery of donated artwork, from John Kelley Matson Line menus to knock-offs of classic statuary and signed works by noted Island artists. This was the work of Dianne Towey and Marlise Tellander and spoke to the souls (and pocketbooks) of many buyers. The two rescued old frames and refurbished them to save money.
While the sale takes days to arrange in the cafeteria and an adjacent tent, it disappears like smoke. A cheerful team from the Honolulu Metro Rotary packs books in boxes each year, then sits down to a meal and a talk-fest in the teachersʻ lounge. It sounds like a party and only breaks up when we start to take down the kitchen.
Within an hour of the close of sale, all the books had been boxed and piled in a Matson container, courtesy of sweaty, shouting football players, passing the heavy burdens from hand to hand like a fire brigade moving water buckets.
These young men and their coaches were from Farrington High School, but the Friends annually receive pack-in and pack-out aid from several football teams, including McKinley High. (And, no, they don’t just do it for the plate lunches!)
By 6:30 p.m., the last straggling volunteers were leaving an empty room for their cars while a rental company took down the tent.
“This is what we do it for,” I told an exhausted-but-still-smiling former executive director Byrde Cestare as we stuffed my car with bags and boxes. “This delicious tiredness, knowing we did something!”
Wanda Adams is a Honolulu freelance writer and former Friends board member
Click here to find out more about the Annual Booksale