What: South African-style barbecue

When: 3 to 6 p.m. Sept. 17

Where: Books for Africa warehouse, 715 Minnehaha Av. E., St. Paul

Volunteers are invited to help pack donated books Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the first and third Saturdays of the month from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

More information:

St. Paul book donations to Africa top 25 million

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH
  • Star Tribune
  • September 8, 2011 - 8:29 PM

In 1988, Tom Warth set out to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but stumbled upon a much loftier goal -- ending what he calls Africa's "book famine."

Warth, of Marine on St. Croix, had just sold his book business and was traveling the world. He ended up at a public library in Uganda, where he saw a librarian, children and virtually no books.

Back in Minnesota, he collected surplus textbooks and sent them to that library in Uganda.

It was the start of Books for Africa, a nonprofit organization based in St. Paul that has shipped millions of books to 46 African countries.

The official number of donated books topped 25 million recently. So on Thursday, Books for Africa celebrated that milestone and International Literacy Day by calling for volunteers to sort and pack books at its St. Paul warehouse. The festivities continue next weekend with a South African-style barbecue at the warehouse, open to the public.

"You can go into a lot of schools in Africa now and go to a remote school and find a book from Woodbury," said Warth, the 75-year-old founder. "It makes me so proud that the largest shipper of books in the world to Africa is here in the Midwest."

About two-thirds of the books sent overseas through Books for Africa are textbooks for schools.

The rest are fiction and reference books used in libraries, said Pat Plonski, the group's executive director.

Not all donated books make the cut.

"We don't send things that are too eurocentric or something that is too old or dated, or books that are damaged," Plonski explained, adding that books that can't be used are recycled.

To ensure that the books they're collecting will get used, organizers begin their drives by asking the schools and libraries in Africa what kinds of books they need.

Donations come from individuals, church groups, publishing companies and others. Rotary groups have played a huge role in raising money to help pay for the containers used to ship the books and sending volunteer groups to help sort and pack them.

Warth also credited the organization's success to something so simple it's almost uncanny -- the name Books for Africa.

"Anyone looking to send books for Africa can find that. It's around the world. Everything is guided by Google these days."

Although he's pleased that the idea he had on his early adventure to Africa is still going strong, Warth said there is still much to do.

"We cannot rest on our laurels. There are 300 million children in Africa," he said. "We have to accelerate sending books."

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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