WASHINGTON COUNTY — When Women’s Club of South County (GFWC) member Suzan Amoruso was brainstorming of a new, charitable activity the volunteer service organization could undertake, she considered a world reshaped by the pandemic and one of the public institutions she enjoys most.
“I was trying to think of something contact-less that the club could do and I also love libraries,” said Amoruso. “Then I thought these independent stores are struggling.”
Now through the end of the month, GFWC members will purchase sought-after books requested by six local libraries across five Washington County towns and donate them to the libraries on April 4 through April 10, National Library Week. All books will be purchased at Wakefield Books and were specifically requested by the libraries due to demand.
The initiative, GFWC Loves Libraries, One Book at a Time, is not restricted to just GFWC membership, however. The general public can also participate by purchasing a requested book from the Wakefield business in-store or online and then donate it to the corresponding library. A wishlist of books generated by local libraries can be found on Wakefieldbooks.com.
“Normally our activities are just for club members,” Amoruso explained. “We do a lot of stuff. But for this one I didn’t want to restrict it just to us because we’re trying to help libraries and we’re trying to help a local business.”
It’s no secret that brick-and-mortar bookstores have been hit hard by the pandemic and the rise of massive, online, all-in-one retailers, such as Amazon.
“I heard from one GFWC member who said she was just buying her books off Amazon all the time and then she realized how important small business is, how much they’ve been hurting during the pandemic and how easy it would be to change this habit,” said Amoruso. “And really, when you look at the big picture, you pay a fraction more, if that.”
For Amoruso, a retired teacher who has been a GFWC member since 2005, the project checks-off the boxes of many worthwhile causes. In addition to helping out local libraries and a small business, Amoruso has targeted requested books that feature strong female characters and a diverse cast of characters and cultures.
“I just like libraries and there is a shortage of funds,” she said. “One thing that kind of spurred me on, and I was encouraged by the national organization as well on this, is that we need more books for both young women and young men that have diversity because South County is not very diversified.”
“I also felt that young readers should see strong women characters in the books,” Amoruso continued. “And that would inspire other young girls and also be a model for young boys to understand that girls can be leaders too. I’m hoping that some of these books will make some of the kids who aren’t going to have these experiences in dealing with other people able to understand and empathize through literature.”
The participating libraries include Maury Loontjens Memorial Library in Narragansett, the Peace Dale Library, the North Kingstown Free Library, Willett Free Library, also located in North Kingstown, Cross Mills Public Library in Charlestown and the Westerly Library & Wilcox Park. GFWC members plan to purchase 10 books from Wakefield Books for each library.
Requested books include, but are not limited to, “The Downstairs Girl” by Stacey Lee, “A Wish in the Dark” by Christina Soontornvat, “Ambitious Girl” by Meena Harris, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” by Jeanne Theoharis, “Superheroes Are Everywhere” by Kamala Harris, “All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans With Disabilities Changed Everything” by Annette Bay Pimental and “Think Big, Little One” by Vashti Harrison.
And, like a good novel, the plot thickens. Additionally, Wakefield Books will donate 20 percent of all book sales purchased through the initiative back to the Women’s Club of South County. The GFWC, a local chapter in the national General Federation of Women’s Clubs, annually supports nonprofit organizations through its Grow Hope Community Grants initiative, funds scholarship opportunities for women seeking to continue education and hosts an essay contest for middle school students in which participants write a piece about a local nonprofit organization they would donate to and why. When winning students are selected, they receive a check and present it to a representative of the nonprofit organization they had written about.
“[Wakefield Books Owner] Bob Ryan did a lot of work on his website, and he was really appreciative that we chose to go through Wakefield Books for this initiative,” said Amoruso. “He’s put a lot of effort into it to make it work for club members.”
Finally, the timing of the project also made sense to Amoruso. While vaccines are being administered and there is hope for a return to normalcy sometime this year, many are still minimizing travel and social interaction for safety’s sake. This presents a great opportunity to promote a good book, said the retired teacher.
“Books have even more significance during the pandemic,” she said. “They can provide a safe outlet while also exposing readers to new worlds, ideas and people. It’s a time to better oneself, I think. We’re all kind of locked down and I think it’s a productive way to advance one’s understanding of the world.”
“I’ve got five grandkids and books have really been an outlet for them,” Amoruso concluded. “I’ve got two reluctant readers and the pandemic has now made them more entertained by reading. I get recommendations from them now.”