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Book sale fundraiser for women's shelter kicks off 44th edition

With about 100,000 used books for sale, Book Riot hopes to raise $100,000 for Birchway Niagara, a women's shelter in Niagara Falls; 'We have a space the size of an entire ice rink'

How many readers still love to pick up a good book, rather than reading on some kind of an electronic device? And who doesn’t love a bargain?

Over the last while volunteers have been working like crazy getting about 100,000 books sorted for the 44th instalment of the Book Riot, an annual fundraiser for Birchway Niagara. Formerly Women’s Place, Birchway is a women’s shelter in Niagara Falls with outreach services which help hundreds of survivors of domestic violence in South Niagara every year.

About 4,000 shoppers are expected to visit the Gale Centre in Niagara Falls from Tuesday, June 6 to Sunday, June 11, says Jennifer McQuestion, Birchway’s communications manager, many of them from Niagara-on-the-Lake, with a large number of local readers returning each year.

McQuestion calls it “Canada’s best and biggest used book sale,” with everything donated by people who are aware of the sale and have shopped there over decades, and many who also, once the event is over, can start dropping off books at Apple Self-Storage units in the Falls for next year’s sale.

“People just know about it,” says McQuestion, and as books are dropped off, a core group of volunteers starts sorting books in the storage units almost every week until it’s time for the boxes of books to be transported to the Gale Centre.

“We have a space the size of an entire ice rink, with fiction on one side as you walk in and non-fiction on the other,” says McQuestion. Volunteers also sort books into sub-categories to make it easy for shoppers.

In addition there is space for rare and vintage books, lots of children’s books, and tables for CDs, DVDs, puzzles and games, she says.

There are volunteers who come to help from NOTL, including a group from Grace United Church to sort, Niagara Falls firefighters who truck the books from the storage units and deliver them to the arena, and minor hockey teams to help unload the boxes and take them into the arena. McQuestion estimates overall about 400 volunteers are involved in making this event happen.

One of them is Chamanjit Sidhu, a St. Davids woman who is on the board of Birchway, and has been a volunteer for the Book Riot for several years. Her children, an 18-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son, volunteer as well.

“My son just asked me if we’re going to volunteer again,” she says. “He’s really excited to do it.”

Sidhu is a registered social worker who has worked in the areas of children’s welfare and mental illness, so a position on the Birchway board seemed a natural to her. “This is rewarding for me," she says, “giving back to the community, and making impactful decisions that help women.”

She’s been on the board for about four years, and this is her third year helping with the Book Riot. She soon decided she wanted to get her children involved, and her daughter now takes shifts on her own, while her son “loves being at the sale. He really wants to help out.”

Sidhu says she is in awe “of the enthusiasm, passion and commitment of the volunteers and the number of hours of volunteer hours they put in,” many of them returning year after year.

“I’m truly honoured to be part of this community,” she adds, especially with an increasing number of women looking for help, and 10 new beds to support, without government assistance.

This year, organizers hope to raise $100,000, which is badly needed, McQuestion says.

The call for Birchway’s shelter and outreach services has increased, and although there are those 10 new beds, both the Niagara Falls shelter and Gillian’s Place in St. Catharines are often short of spaces for those who need them, and work together to try to find places, she says.

Most items at the sale are only $3, although some may be more, says McQuestion.

Wednesday, June 7 it opens 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Thursday is a regular sale day, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., with a daily special: buy two CDs or DVDs, and get one free.

Friday, June 9, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. the daily special is children and youth titles, buy two, get one free. Saturday, June 10, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the daily special: hardcovers, buy two, get one free.

Sunday, June 11, the final day, the Book Riot is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, and it’s Bag Day – fill a bag for $5 or 3 bags for $10.