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Friends of the Blackstone Library’s new fall book sale chairman Joe Genua invites novel ideas from volunteers to help support the library. On Saturday, May 18, the friends will host a mini book sale on the Branford Green from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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To help Friends of the Blackstone Library (FOBL), its new fall book sale chairman, Joe Genua, will soon institute the first of what he hopes will be many novel ideas: hosting a mini book sale on the Branford Green.
Set for Saturday, May 18 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the mini-sale event, tagged Bloomin’ Books and More, will fill several tables under volunteers’ pop-up tents with gently used seasonal books offered for pennies on the dollar. Books offered will include gardening, beach reads, summer fun, children’s, animals, summer cooking, and more. Also on that day, volunteers from other community organizations will join in by hosting their own events on the green, including Branford Compassion Club, Branford Garden Club, Branford Community Gardens, and Branford Land Trust.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be a fun day,” says Joe. “We’re going to have a bunch of different community based [events] for people to come to the green and see.”
For Joe, the mini sale also offers a bit of a rehearsal for the gigantic, annual FOBL fall book sale, set this year for Sept. 26 to 29. It will be Joe’s first time chairing the annual event, which offers more than 70,000 donated books under a huge tent on the Town Green.
“I think my objective for the mini sale is to try things out, on a small scale, ahead of the big fall sale,” says Joe. “We can also use the opportunity to help recruit more volunteers, because volunteers are always needed, and maybe generate a little more presence for the friends by being out in the community in the spring.”
Joe takes up the fall book sale baton from long-serving Book Sale Chair Mary Hally (who is also the 2018-’19 FOBL executive board president).
As a FOBL board member since 2015, Joe was well aware of the many hours of planning, organization, and coordination Hally and her family contributed to running the sale every year, so in fall 2018, after he learned that there was a need for a new chair, “I did a little soul searching,” he says. “The Hallys did a wonderful job. I thought, ‘Okay, am I willing to this?’”
One of the factors figuring into his decision was that Joe recently retired from his career with AT&T, where he most recently worked as a lead principal technical architect (LPTA).
“An LPTA is basically a big system integrator,” says Joe. “When AT&T does a lot of mergers and acquisitions, there are all of these different IT systems, and me, among many other people, would work with the businesses and try to sort this stuff out.”
Once Joe decided to lend his organizational skills to running the FOBL fall book sale, he started gathering volunteers—and asking for their ideas.
“Putting on the big fall sale is no small task,” says Joe. “This being the first time in the rodeo for me, I said, ‘I need help—how do we go about doing this?’ So I held a brainstorming session for volunteers back in November. I said, ‘This is new. We have an opportunity, [and] I want to hear ideas, and run with some of these ideas if I can.’”
Joe has a core group of about a dozen volunteers who have been working by his side since that time. One mentioned the idea of somehow offering a small-scale spring book sale to the community, and another came up with joining it with community programs on the green on the same day.
“It turned into a great idea, which we can do at virtually no cost. We have the books, we have the volunteers, we all have pop-up tents, and we have [folding] tables from library,” says Joe. “And if we can make anything for the friends, that’s terrific.”
Proceeds from all FOBL book sales assist the library. FOBL sponsors lectures, musicals, and other special programs as well as support for youth programs, equipment purchases, museum passes, movies, concerts, and the likes of library furniture and plantings. FOBL also gave significantly to assist with the library expansion and renovation project, currently underway. The $5.2 million town-bonded project includes funding of more than $800,000 raised by the Blackstone Board of Trustees and a $1 million state library grant.
When it comes to bringing in new ideas to benefit FOBL efforts, Joe already has a great track record. About two years ago, together with his wife, Barbara Barrett, who is also a FOBL board member, he developed and launched a year-round, specialized FOBL book inventory online sales program, using Amazon as a sales platform.
The idea was born after the couple began thinking about the many books the public donates to FOBL each year that don’t fit into fall book sale categories. With a little research, Joe and Barbara discovered there are people who seek out these topic-specific tomes, such textbooks—or even the likes of a slightly oil-stained, 1990s-era marine engine technical manual, which Joe mailed out to a customer last week.
“We ended up exploring and found a lot of donated books that we really don’t typically sell were still valuable,” says Joe. “So my wife and I started an online presence, and now we mail them all over the country, and we make a significant amount for the friends.”
Together with a handful of volunteers, Joe and Barbara have built up an inventory that’s maintained and managed in a FOBL workspace in the basement of Branford’s Patricia C. Andriole Volunteer Services Center on Harrison Avenue.
The workspace is also where Joe holds monthly meetings with book sale volunteers. Since November, he’s posted a running list of ideas, outcomes, and even a book donation tracking spreadsheet, comparing numbers, by category, year over year. It’s all there to help them plan and produce both the mini sale and fall book sale.
The main message on the posting reads, “Have fun!” he notes.
“The fall sale, especially, requires a tremendous amount of coordination, volunteer work, and a lot of planning to make it happen,” says Joe “It’s not just me. I’m humbled to have a huge group of people that want to do it.”
As a non-profit organization founded in 1988, FOBL now has a membership roster of more than 550 members, with about 250 of those actively volunteering for a variety of fundraising activities, including the annual fall book sale.
In addition to assisting the friends, Joe has been volunteering with his community for many years. The Branford resident of two decades started out with an offer to “pinch hit” as a meal delivery driver for the Branford-based Community Dining Room (CDR).
“They needed help delivering food to homebound,” says Joe. “They didn’t have a regular route, but they needed a pinch hitter—and I’m still their pinch hitter for meal deliveries. From doing that, I just got to know everybody at the center.”
CDR, the FOBL workspace, Branford Food Pantry, and BHcare Clothing Bank are all located within the town’s volunteer services center.
“It’s a wonderful group of people here. You never know who you’re going to meet, between the volunteers and the clients,” says Joe.
Joe also is there to help in the center in a pinch, from building storage shelving with his son some time back, to answering calls for last-minute help. Just last week, CDR’s dishwasher was on the fritz, and Joe came in to help get it up and running.
“It was in the morning, and they had to serve meals, and there was no way to wash dishes, so they had to get it fixed,” says Joe, who was alerted to the issue through a call from his wife. “Me and another volunteer who’s pretty mechanical, as well, kept on noodling with it, and we got it to work again.”
As for what help he might ask of others to assist with his efforts on behalf of FOBL, Joe encourages community members to consider volunteering and to keep on contributing gently used books to help build up the annual inventory that will be offered at this year’s fall book sale.
“We need volunteers and donations,” says Joe, noting books can be donated at the library (758 Main Street) brought to the book shed at the back of the volunteer center at 30 Harrison Avenue, or dropped off at the newly installed collection bins set up outside Cosgrove Construction, 164 North Main Street.
“We’re also always open to pick-ups of donations—just call the library,” Joe adds. “I did one last week. It’s a great way for me to get to meet more Branford residents!”
Of course, it’s also a great way to help the Friends support the Blackstone Library, he says, adding the Friends are always working to find the best way to support the library’s needs.
For example, right now, the FOBL board “wants to try to see if we can partner with the library by looking three to five years out—where do they want to be, and what can we do to get some funding to help them?” says Joe, adding, “The library’s a wonderful organization. It’s central to our community.”
Friends of the Blackstone Library Mini Book Sale “Bloomin’ Books and More” takes place Saturday, May 18 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Branford Green. Rain Date: Sunday, May 19 from noon to 3 p.m. For more information or to volunteer with the Friends of the Blackstone Library, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on book donations, call the library at 203-488-1441.
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