Shelter House hosts first full Book Sale in two years

Shelter House hosts an annual Book Sale fundraiser to support their work helping with the homeless community. Donations of books, CDs, puzzles, and more have come in over the last month to prepare for the sale.


Dimia Burrell

The Shelter House Book Sale is seen advertised outside of the Antique Car Museum of Iowa in Coralville on Thursday, March 24, 2022

Anaka Sanders, Arts Reporters

Volunteers were hard at work unboxing and stacking thousands of books on Wednesday in preparation for Shelter House’s annual Book Sale. 

As some volunteers braved the damp, cold March weather to help the never-ending line of cars unload their donations of books, puzzles, CDs, DVDs, and vinyl records, others walked back and forth across the warehouse sorting the donations into categories. 

Shelter House is an emergency shelter for individuals having an acute crisis of homelessness, but also offers programs like rapid rehousing and eviction prevention.  

Christine Ralston, the development director and director of communications at Shelter House, said the organization hosts fundraisers throughout the year, with ones like the Book Sale benefiting their work across the board. 

“These funds go into general operating, which means its programmatic support, salary support, keeping the lights on, and paying our utilities because we have some big buildings,” Ralston said. “So, it’s everything. It supports the whole organization.”

The Shelter House Book Sale will be held on March 26-27 at its location on Quarry Road in Coralville. 

The sale started 25 years ago when it was created by the Trinity Episcopal Church with the proceeds going to Shelter House, but as time went on, Shelter House took over the operation. 

With the help of volunteers and the Book Sale Committee, the lead volunteers in charge of the sale, Shelter House has been accepting donations from the public and preparing for this year’s event since Feb. 14.  

Donna Hirst has been volunteering for Shelter House for over 15 years and is a member of the Book Sale Committee. 

She said that last year, the sale raised $21,000 — though for her, the engagement with the community is just as fulfilling. Hirst’s favorite part is seeing all the books being donated. 

“You pick up a sack of books and every book is a romance novel, you pick up another box of books down the line and there’s not two books on the same subject,” Hirst said. “It’s very interesting while you’re working with the books, to imagine what the donors are like.”

In 2020, the Book Sale was completely canceled, and in 2021 the sale was formatted differently to avoid any in-person contact between attendees and organizers. The shelter previously bundled books by category and sold items in bags — now that the sale will finally be held in-person, with long rows of tables allowing shoppers to directly choose items for themselves. 

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Ralston is excited for the community to come out and support the organization in a safe manner. Masks will be required and available on site for those who don’t have any. She said she believes the Book Sale is an opportunity to bring their community of supporters back together again. 

“I think the book sale is always exciting, but it’s an entirely different level of excitement for the folks who’ve been putting in the work,” Ralston said. 

Volunteer Coordinator Angelique Frier just started her yearlong position in October, and she has gone right to work helping prepare for the annual sale. She said wherever the volunteers are, she’ll be there. 

“I just do whatever is needed,” Frier said. “If books need to be sorted, I’ll come in. I help grab snacks for volunteers and clean up the tables.”

The books have been divided into typical sections like fiction and nonfiction, but there are also entire tables dedicated to more unique topics like law, gardening, ethnic studies, and Iowa. Some of the titles include classics like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, to more bestsellers, like The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. 

In addition to books, there are a large number of DVDs, CDs, and vinyl records for sale along with an entire table piled high with puzzles. The variety is large enough that the volunteers must consistently restock and move items throughout the day, because there is no more room on the tables. 

The goal of the book sale is ultimately to raise funds for Shelter House’s work, improving the quality of life for those in need. 

 “Anyone can get involved in supporting the organization,” Ralston said. “It’s literally dollar by dollar. People can do the tiniest thing and it all adds up. It really does.” 

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