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Businessman's Used-Textbook Drive Hits a Warehouse-Sized Bottleneck

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Fred Giuffrida, a businessman in King of Prussia, Pa., figured it would be no sweat.

As the new chairman of the local Rotary Club's international committee, he would continue an annual book drive, collecting a few cartons of used books and sending them off to needy English readers in West Africa.

Why not invite donations of used school textbooks, his wife Barbara, a mathematics teacher, suggested.

"I thought that was a good idea," Mr. Giuffrida said in an interview last week. But, he laughed, "it exploded in my face."

Three months into the drive, Mr. Giuffrida is now the stunned guardian of more than 35,000 used schoolbooks, bestowed on him in truckloads by four Philadelphia-area school districts.

The books sit, carton upon carton, in unused retail space at the local mall, provided by two fellow Rotarians.

Some of the books--which range from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar to paperback novels and teachers' aids, such as flip charts--have recent dates of publication and appear never to have been used, Mr. Giuffrida said.

The variety of volumes is enormous, he said, including a case of books entitled "How To Get Pregnant."

Lately, Mr. Giuffrida has tried to discourage further donations, or, as he said, "turn the faucet off until I can find the other end of the pipeline."

More books now would be "like buying a bucket of sand for Lawrence of Arabia," he said.

But the pipeline may be opening.

Inquiries from potential book recipients have been coming in steadily, Mr. Giuffrida said. He said he has had calls from as far away as Nigeria and the Philippines, as well as from a New York City group that sends books to black townships in South Africa.

The books' destinations will be up to the Rotary Club, Mr. Giuffrida said, and the feeling among members is to keep them in Pennsylvania.

The poorest school districts in the state will likely have high priority, he said, then perhaps some Philadelphia schools, which have also expressed interest.

When those schools have picked over the lot, he added, "then we'll call some of these people from foreign countries."

Officials at one of Pennsylvania's less-affluent districts have already sent Mr. Giuffrida a copy of their approved-textbook list. Jim Davis, curriculum and federal-programs coordinator for the Northern Tioga School District in Elkland, called the book drive "a great idea."

While Mr. Davis said the rural district is financially pressed, textbooks have a high priority and the district has yet to have any students without them.

But, he said, "if we can save some dollars in terms of textbooks, then maybe we can shift that to areas that have a little less priority, like building maintenance."

Mr. Davis said he is so interested that if he finds Mr. Giuffrida's books include titles on his list, he may make the five-hour drive to King of Prussia to go through them himself.

Gilbert T. Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, which monitors and reviews textbooks, also hailed Mr. Giuffrida's venture.

Easily 1 million schoolbooks are discarded each year and end up in incinerators or landfills, the way most solid waste does, Mr. Sewall said.

"If this guy is finding a good home for old books in acceptable condition, his efforts should be encouraged and applauded," he said.

Taking inventory of the mountains of books is perhaps Mr. Giuffrida's most pressing problem. He hopes to have volunteers sort them by subject during the holidays.

"The important thing here is to get books into the hands of people who can use them," Mr. Giuffrida said.

When his committee chairmanship is up in June, however, Mr. Giuffrida said oversight of the overwhelming project, which he hopes will continue, will go to someone else.

"I think this is something very important," he said. "We're rescuing these books from a landfill."

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