The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

By Staff
Of The New Era 

Crowd turns out to help unload, distribute FirstBook haul


May 24, 2016

A group of students sorts books.

School was out Friday but the Sweet Home High School activity gym was filled with people.

And 40,000 books.

The books were provided by FirstBook, a social organization dedicated to ending illiteracy by providing a steady supply of brand new high-quality books to low-income families.

In April of last year, Sweet Home members of the Oregon School Employees Association started their mission to get the books in the hands of Sweet Home’s children.

Velma Canfield and Lisa Gourley organized the project and about 170 volunteers showed up last week to help sort the books and ready them for distribution.

“It was a huge project,” Canfield said. “(There are) less than 10,000 people in Sweet Home.”

To qualify for the 40,000 free books, they needed to obtain 2,000 emails from community members, family and friends.

It took a year, but with the help of local businesses and individuals, they met that goal. They also got a lot of email addresses at the Oregon Jamboree last year.

“It’s been a community effort,” Canfield said. “Without the community, we wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

Volunteers were done sorting the 26 pallets of books by about 4 p.m., she said.

In addition to those who showed up to sort books, local businesses and organizations donated food, door prizes and gift certificates. They included Hoy’s Hardware, Safeway, the Linn Benton Labor Council, the Oregon School Employees Association Sweet Home Chapter, OSEA Chapter 3, A&W, Two Dams Bagels, Santiam Feed and the Steelworkers union.

Businesses and organizations that carried forms to gather signatures included The New Era, Dan Dee Sales, Circle K, the Oregon Jamboree, the City of Sweet Home, Sweet Home School District, the Vets Club, the Elks Club, Sunshine Industries and Linn Lanes.

Saturday, anyone who registered with their email address had the option to come and take up 20 books. The remaining books will be distributed to Sweet Home schools, Little Promises, and Head Start programs.

“I’m impressed with the different types of books we got,” Canfield said. “Pre-K clear up through high school.”

Media assistants were stationed throughout the cafeteria to help sort the books accordingly.

Michelle Keene, a media assistant at Holley, was one of a team that helped make sure books were grouped for their intended audiences.

“It will benefit everybody,” Keene said.

At her school, students will get a couple of books before summer break, she said.

The majority of the books will be sent home with kids, distributed before summer and throughout the school year, Canfield said.

A crowd of people sorts books inside the SHHS activity gym.

Michele King, a retired media assistant, was on hand to help out Friday.

The library budget has been so meager for the last several years, King said. These books will help the libraries update their collections.

“We want them to read,” King said. “That’s the most important thing. That’s why we did this.”

For more information on FirstBook, visit


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