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Jack Knox: The book drive runs on big hearts and aching feet; sale is on May 14 and 15

Volunteers are sorting hundreds of thousands of donated books; if you can, come and help

Just in case there’s any confusion: The Times Colonist book sale is not next weekend. It’s the one after that, May 14 and 15.

Wander into the Victoria Curling Club before then and you might be press-ganged into book-sorting service, just like in the days when they hauled guys out of the pubs to fight forest fires.

Monday, an army of volunteers, determined to turn chaos into order before the charity sale begins, began swarming the mountain of books donated on the weekend. Sorting is a big job, though, as the drive-through collection netted a record haul, hundreds of thousands of volumes. So, if you’d like to engage in some unpaid labour, toiling on the concrete floor of a cavernous rink until your poor feet hurt like a country song, feel free to show up at 1952 Quadra St. and join the army.

I have a soft spot for these volunteers. Some have pitched in every year since the very first drive in 1998, and stick around for the whole process — the collection, the two weeks of sorting, the sale itself. Most don’t see each other outside the sale period. (When they all get together each spring, it’s like a joyful family reunion.) Most have no connection with the Times Colonist at all.

That’s the thing about the sale: It may be a Times Colonist event, but it wouldn’t succeed without the support of others.

Most obvious are the donors, the thousands of people who not only willingly hand over their much-loved books for a good cause (all the money raised by the sale, more than $6 million since 1998, goes to literacy programs on Vancouver Island) but wait patiently for the opportunity to do so, arriving in a much better mood than I would be in after being stuck in line for half an hour. (Lots of electric vehicles this year, BTW, and lots of cars with dogs — pandemic pets?) One woman dropped off a case of Girl Guide cookies along with her boxes of books; I ate all the vanilla ones myself.

There were some poignant back stories: Nic Hume, the son of legendary political columnist Jim Hume, who died April 13, donated not only his dad’s books but a book store gift card with an unused balance. His dad would have liked the card to go to a schoolteacher, Nic said. Two minutes later it was in the hands of Jamie Elbert, a young teacher who has been volunteering at the book drive for six or seven years. She plans to ask a student who is passionate about books to choose a title for the school’s collection.

Also key to the sale are the sponsors. Thrifty Foods has been feeding the volunteers for years. On the weekend, the Saanich Plaza Boston Pizza not only gave a big discount, but felt-penned a thank you message to volunteers on the top of each box. Don Mann Excavating loaned big orange lane dividers to keep traffic going where it was supposed to go.

When we issued a plea for trestle tables on which to display the books, CFB Esquimalt came to the rescue with 55 of them. Others came from the Saanich and Sooke school districts, the Saanich Fair, the United Peninsula Masonic Lodge and the City of Victoria.

We’re still short, though; if you have 10 or more to lend for a couple of weeks, please contact Ed Kennedy at ekennedy@timescolonist.com

Likewise, when we ran shy of pallets on which to stack the boxes as they flowed in on the weekend, Russell Books came up with piles of them plucked from a field on the Saanich Peninsula. Other pallets came from the Castle Building Centre and Black Press’s press centre in Ladysmith.

And on it goes: parking passes for volunteers from Robbins, giant recycling bins from GFL, boxes from the Great Little Box Company. Telus runs cables into the curling club (another great sponsor) so that point-of-sale machines will work on the sale weekend.

Right, the sale: It’s 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 14-15, with the books selling for $1-$3. Please wear a mask. And please give a thought for all those whose generosity makes the sale a success.

jknox@timescolonist.com