Jack Knox: Cheers! A toast to the literacy fund's donors

A couple of weeks ago, under a sky so blue you’d never imagine we would soon be cloaked in an apocalyptic gloom, I ferried over to Pender Island to observe the annual harvest at the Hope Bay Hop Farm. It was a one-day affair, with scores of volunteers picking the hops in an uplifting, old-timey display of neighbours helping neighbours.

The day became even more uplifting when Sean Hoyne, owner of the eponymous Victoria brewery, uplifted some buckets of ice-cold beer from his van. The refreshments were meant for the sun-parched pickers, but I decided I should embrace the vaguely Amish spirit of fellowship and grab a bottle, too, just to be polite. I’m generous that way.

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This turned out to be a good hot-afternoon choice, as the beer proved to be the most satisfying I had tasted since slaking my thirst at a Chicago Cubs game at sweltering Wrigley Field in 1982. (There was a ground-rule double when a ball got lost in the outfield ivy, but that’s a story for another day.)

I mention this now because of what happened back in Victoria the day after I returned from Pender. “Look at this,” someone in the office said, flashing a $1,103 Hoyne Brewing cheque made out to the Times Colonist Literacy Society. Unbeknownst to me, the brewery had been running a fundraiser in which the literacy society got money every time someone filled a growler. Hoyne hadn’t mentioned this when I stole his beer.

It turns out that literacy is one of Hoyne’s favourite causes. He was working on his master’s degree in literature at UVic when life funnelled him into a career in craft brewing. His twin sister, a librarian, is dedicated to literacy efforts in Vermont. A day doesn’t go by without Sean ducking into a novel, or a book of poetry or short stories. “Literature and literacy have been central to my entire life,” he says.

Hoyne’s donation was particularly welcome this year. The pandemic has put the boots to all sorts of charities, including the TC Literacy Society. COVID-19 caused the cancellation of the annual book sale that raises most of the money distributed through the charity (about a third comes from matching funds provided by the provincial government). This spring, the money raised in 2019 allowed the society to spread more than $300,000 among 180 recipients — mostly schools — to pay for literacy-related programs on Vancouver Island. Without the big annual book sale, where will the money come from now?

From Hoyne, that’s where. And people like him, who have stepped up with contributions. The United Peninsula Masons Association gave $2,000. A couple of longtime book sale volunteers raised $75 through their own mini-drive. Another volunteer sent $300, equalling the amount he usually spends on books after he’s finished sorting them.

After Dave Obee, the Times Colonist’s editor and publisher, appealed for donations last week, readers responded. A retired teacher-librarian sent in an amount she figures she would have spent at this year’s book sale, had it happened. Another $300 arrived from someone who was inspired by the $3,000 donation from the Oak Bay Firefighters Charitable Foundation that Obee reported in his column. There was also $100 from a man in a little village in Kent, England, which was both puzzling and pleasing.

Another contribution came from someone tied to the Victoria Youth Custody Centre, which had filled its shelves with books from the TC drive. “It was these donations that allowed us to grow a small but wonderful library at the centre, and we were able to create a healthy culture around reading,” read the accompanying comment. “That was a miracle.”

Altogether, $18,000 worth of donations have piled in, a great start toward the goal of $30,000 by the end of September. The hope is to top that target, because the more that is raised locally, the more that will arrive via those provincial government matching funds, distributed by Decoda Literacy Solutions. (There will also be money from an August book drive held in conjunction with Russell Books and the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.)

I’m in a privileged position. In a normal year, when the TC book sale is over and the volunteers have gone home to nurse their aching backs, I get to distribute cheques to many of the grant recipients. It’s a bit like playing Santa Claus, being lavished with all the credit after the elves have done the heavy lifting. It’s also an eye-opener to see how excited the recipients are, how fired up they are to be armed with the tools they need to help others thrive.

Cheers to them, and cheers to the donors.

> Direct link for donations: timescolonist.com/1.23601097

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