“We might just pull this thing off.”

It’s a regular phrase uttered during staff meetings and as we sign off from phone calls with each other, in all sorts of seasons. Books for Keeps has always been a scrappy organization – occasionally punching above our weight class, and ALWAYS looking for new ways to problem-solve in the face of hurdles.

Lately, we find ourselves saying this a lot (sometimes just to the dog or the cat in our home office) as we turn our operation on its head so we can reach students in the most unusual of circumstances. What was once a program that deployed thousands of books and hundreds of volunteers into schools is set to enter students’ homes through their computers or a parent’s smartphone, or even in direct phone calls from a teacher to a parent saying, “I’m calling to help you order your Books for Keeps books.”

In the past seven weeks, Books for Keeps has placed nearly our entire inventory of 80,000+ books onto an e-commerce website for students in Clarke County to shop. Meanwhile, we have partnered with a book wholesale company out of South Carolina, Reading Warehouse, to create an online shopping experience for students we serve in Elbert, Warren, and Fulton counties.

Eight weeks ago, we wondered how on earth we would be able to serve the 9,000 students who expected us in their schools this spring. Seven weeks ago, we hatched a plan – the brain-child of Program Manager Justin Bray – that felt just crazy enough to work. (Justin is the dreamer on our staff, and we’re continually aware of how fortunate we are to have a mix of conceptual minds and analytical thinkers on both our staff and board).

Just six weeks ago, we re-connected with a local web developer, Brandon Checketts, the founder of Roundsphere, and a long-time supporter of Books for Keeps. And four weeks ago, we started unpacking most of those 80,000 books onto tables and tubs and pallets in our warehouse so that they could be packed back into bags, to be delivered directly to students. This week, we finally got the warehouse totally reset to act as a fulfillment center.

Let me tell you, 80,000 books stacked on tables and peeking out of pallets (when they’re usually hidden away in boxes) is a real sight to see.

We’re in the testing phase this week for the new e-commerce website with a small group of students from Downtown Academy. They are helping us make sure our book ordering website works properly, and we’re smoothing out the kinks before we roll this new online system out to the 6,000 K-5 students of CCSD early next week.

Books may start going to students’ homes as soon as next week, with the help of volunteers observing strict safety protocols alongside our staff of three. There are many peer organizations, for-profit partners, civic organizations, and others who are making this work – and we are so grateful to them. We’ve always said we couldn’t accomplish what we do without community support and incredible volunteers – and that’s never been truer than it is right now.

We expected to be inside 20 elementary schools giving away 100,000 books this spring. It was to be our first year reaching all 14 Athens-Clarke public elementary schools – a milestone that is significant in so many ways. Make no mistake: we spent a few days mourning the loss of that opportunity.

However, what is unfolding now is even more remarkable. It’s a story of resiliency and ingenuity. It’s a tale of the incredible alliances that can form when the odds are at their worst. It’s a story of rising to the challenge and fulfilling a mission that’s more important than it’s ever been.

And we’ve always been suckers for a good story around here.

You can follow along via social media – on Facebook or Instagram. And if you’d like to learn more about how you can help, get in touch via info@booksforkeeps.org.