Donors can rest assured that the books they drop in the blue “Books for Charity” bin outside the Safeway store at 160 First St. in downtown Los Altos will go to local charitable organizations, according to Safeway representatives.
Responding to recent charges that some of the donations collected in the bins of the national non-profit Reading Tree, placed outside stores on the Peninsula, were being sold online, Safeway officials reassured donors that would not be the case in Los Altos.
“All books will be donated,” said Susan Houghton, director of public and government affairs for Safeway. “No book will be sold online to anyone.”
Reading Tree Executive Director Gina Zambori endorsed Houghton’s statement and said that Safeway will donate 100 percent of the books from the Los Altos bin.
Reading Tree evolved from the for-profit company Thrift Recycling Management (TRM) a few years ago, Zambori said.
According to Reading Tree’s website, books collected from Safeway bins will be donated to the local community through Reading Partners, Title I elementary schools, Friends of the Library groups and other qualifying charities.
Books not suitable for redistribution will be responsibly recycled, with the goal of keeping books out of landfills.
However, that has not been the case, according to recent newspaper articles in Northern California and Oregon, which reported that 25 percent of the books collected go to needy schools and other organizations, 50 percent are recycled and sold to fund Reading Tree’s programs and the remaining 25 percent are sold online by TRM.
Friends of the Library groups in Northern California are concerned that the public is being misled that their books will go to charity.
In addition, the bins encourage donations that could have gone to those groups to benefit the local libraries.
“We can hold our own, but I’m concerned about smaller communities like Los Altos,” said Jerry Stone, in charge of book sales for Friends of the Palo Alto Library.
Darwin Poulos, president of Friends of the Los Altos Library and Community, expressed concern about not receiving any of the donated books. He said he hasn’t heard anything from Reading Tree.
According to Sheila King of Sheila King Marketing and Public Relations, there was some truth to the reports.
“While there has been some controversy over the nature of the relationship between Reading Tree and TRM, we are confident that those matters are being addressed properly at this time,” she said. “Plans are under way to make changes in the organization.”
California Safeway stores are collaborating with Reading Partners Bay Area, a local branch of the national organization, to identify groups that could use the books.
“TRM will have nothing to do with the Bay Area program,” Zambori said. “All the books collected (from Los Altos) will be managed by Safeway and Reading Partners.”
Reading Partners has already donated several thousand books to needy schools and community organizations, according to CEO Matt Aguiar.
For more information, visit www.readingtree.org.