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Shipment complete: Donated books arrive in Port Arthur


By Ken Stickney


When it comes to book donations, Grand Rapids delivers.

An effort launched in fall 2017 by Kent District Libraries in and around that Michigan city — 1,241 miles away — was completed on the receiving end Thursday morning when Tanis Trucking backed its rig and trailer into the Port Arthur Library loading dock.

The load included 10,500 books for the local library, materials collected by booklovers up North who lamented Port Arthur’s library losses during Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey in August 2017. The library accepted 3,000 children’s books, 3,000 young adult books, 3,000 fiction works and 1,500 non-fiction books.

The rest of the Grand Rapids collection efforts — the book drives there netted some 55,000 usable books — will be distributed to libraries in Ingleside, Texas, south of Aransas; New Bern, North Carolina; and Puerto Rico; all of which were affected by hurricanes.

“It’s wonderful what they have done,” said Randy Haltom, who chairs the Port Arthur Library Board. “It shows the strength of our country, neighbors helping neighbors, even though it’s a thousand miles away.”

The truck rolled into the dock at 10:11 a.m. Books were unloaded and taken to a processing area in the back of the library. There, volunteers will sort the books according to need and eventual destination.

The Friends of the Library accepted the books as a donation. Initially, Grand Rapids intended to send 50,000 books here, but Port Arthur’s library was well-insured. Although its losses were great, its needs were less than envisioned when it came to the collection.

Nonetheless, the library lost thousands of pieces from the collection — everything on the lower shelves — as flooding reached about 3 feet inside the 25,000-square-foot library. Books that were up to 4 feet off the floor were immediately discarded.

Library Director Steven Williams said the library, which will open early next year, has about 45,000 volumes on its shelves now, as library staff prepares the building.

Jeff Cunningham, a reporter for MLive.com Media in Grand Rapids, wrote three stories about Port Arthur flooding and Kent District Libraries’ response that got wide circulation in the Northwest and readers responded generously. Cunningham said response came from “everywhere”: Kent libraries’ 20 branches, from area residents, from libraries as distant as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and from neighboring states.

Cunningham, who with his wife Cindy, a retired history teacher, operated a public events coordinating company, helped plan the eventual collection, organization and transfer of the books to Texas.

Part of the final stages of the organization occurred Oct. 20 in Michigan, where 60 volunteers combed through the collected books there to organize the shipments for delivery. They referred to that seven-hour effort as “The Big Sort.”

The final stages of the effort occurred Thursday, when library staff, city employees, Friends of the Library leader Ray Cline, Haltom and others greeted the Cunninghams and unloaded the shipment.