Books for Soldiers was founded during the first Gulf War as a means of providing entertainment for U. S. military personnel stationed in the Middle East. Two decades later, the organization is processing about a thousand requests a month from U. S. troops.
Janet Cagle, a member of the BSF administrative team, helps coordinate daily operations for the organization.
How did you become involved with Books For Soldiers?
I was listening to the radio as I worked in my clay studio on an August night in 2003. I had to press my ear to the radio to hear through the static when I heard about a program that sends books to soldiers. That same night I became a member of Books For Soldiers. Today I work in the Administrative area of Books For Soldiers. It’s very exciting to be behind the scenes working with Books For Soldiers.
What is the history of the organization?
Books For Soldiers began during the Gulf War 1 when founder, Storm Williams, asked his friends to send books to his brother’s college buddies who were deployed to Riyadh. Storm created the Books For Soldiers website in 2003 after the onset of operations in Iraq. BFS started out small back in 2003 and today BFS is a huge website with lots of traffic.
About how many books have been shipped through BFS to U. S. troops to date?
It would be difficult to put an exact number on it, but we receive 1000 new requests each month from the troops for every type of reading material imaginable. Most will receive more than one box of books and some will ask for only one book. It would be in the thousands. Last year our volunteers sent an estimated $2.7 million in care packages.
If someone would like to help you, what should they do? Are there different ways to become involved?
First they need to get an account on our website.
Go to http://booksforsoldiers.com/forum/index.php?action=register or go to www.booksforsoldiers.com/forum and look for the “Register” button. For troops’ safety the Department of Defense asks that everyone fill out a short application (found at the top of every page) and have it notarized. This verifies that you are who you say you are. It takes around two weeks to process your application. You will receive an email notification of Official Volunteer approval, then the private portion of the website with troop addresses will open up to you. Another way to become involved is to list any books ready to ship in the “We Have Books Ready to Ship” Forum for the troops to pick and choose. This forum is open to the public and doesn’t require Official Volunteer status if they want to skip becoming one of our Official Volunteers.
How does your faith play into your work?
“Ask and it shall be given unto you,” has been a scripture that I have fallen back on a lot. There have been times when there was a request that I had no idea how I was going to fill and I would pray and ask for help and help would come. For example, one time I had a request to supply underwear for 500 Navy female personnel on a ship. I had no idea where I would get the funds to meet this request. I prayed to God to provide a way to make this happen. Within a week I received a letter from Fruit of the Loom saying that they had a lot of female underwear to donate and wanted to know if our organization could use it. Not only did they provide enough underwear to outfit the 500, but we had underwear left over to send to other military personnel. To this day I don’t know how Fruit of the Loom knew to contact me. I just believe it was the answer to my prayer.
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
I have to say that there haven’t been any detours in my life. My life has pretty much been a straight path that God has laid out for me and I have followed.
How do you spend your average day at BFS?
I post requests on a daily basis from our military in the Army, Air Force, Marine, Navy, Afghanistan, PenPal, Wounded Warriors, Coast Guard, Group Request, Operation Forgotten Soldiers forums. I also check in by email with the troops once a month to see if they need anything new or to see if their address has changed. There are days I email an author to see if they can donate their book requested by a military member.
I also remove any spam throughout the day that might get posted and ban any suspicious characters on our site. I also answer any questions that our OV’s have and discuss any Administrative issues with my colleagues.
I also collect books, DVDs and other supplies and mail them out to soldiers.
What steps are required for a member of the military to receive a book?
U. S. Military deployed outside of the United States can make a request on our homepage, http://booksforsoldiers.com. They must fill in the simple form on the right side of the page.
How do you match books and/or donors to recipients?
We use the “tag” feature of the software to categorize the requests the best we can. If you click onto a tag such as Potter, it will take you to all the links requesting Harry Potter books. This saves time for someone who wants to match a book to a request.
Do you often receive feedback from the troops about the books they have received?
I have received thousands of emails and notes of thanks from the troops thanking me for my work with soldiers and for remembering them, and that keeps me going. We get comments like: “You have no idea what it means to us.” “It’s a morale builder.” “It keeps us going as we put our boots on, knowing someone back home is thinking of us.”
Does Books For Soldiers facilitate other gifts besides books?
Yes, our name is Books For Soldiers, but it’s so much more. While overseas, they often run out of things fast, like toiletries. They depend on people like us at BFS for help.
We also send board games, socks, DVDs, CDs, toiletries, snacks, coffee, pillows, blankets, video games, magazines, Military Working Dog care package, phone cards, toilet paper, vitamins and supplements, tobacco products, puzzles, board games, crosswords, batteries, all free to the soldiers. At times, we send children’s books, which the soldiers read while being video recorded, and then send the video back to their children. There is also a PenPal Forum for soldiers requesting a pen pal, some requests are for birthday cards to be sent to a soldier, a memorial wall for those BFS soldiers we have lost and a Thank You forum from the soldiers themselves. We also have Operation Forgotten Soldier Forum for those men and women who have no one to send them anything. School supplies and toys are often sent to give to the locals to help develop trust between soldiers and the people.
Is there one story that stands out for you in your work with BFS as the most memorable or poignant?
There was a BFS member from my area who was in the Army stationed in
Iraq and was killed. He was well liked by all of the members and his posts made us laugh. I attended the funeral and it was obviously sad for those of us attending. But to add to the anxiety of the situation, there was a group that carried on a protest across the street from the funeral home. The family should have been allowed to grieve in peace and in private.
Please tell us briefly about BFS’s new affiliated mission for churches, SundayForSoldiers.org.
Sundays for Soldiers is a website created for our Christian members to build church awareness about Books For Soldiers, help churches start their own soldier outreach program, increase the number of Official Volunteers for Books For Soldiers, build soldier awareness of Books For Soldiers with military members of the churches.
We also have the Take The Pledge program. Get your church to pledge to donate $500 to BiblesForSoldiers.org by the end of 2010. Our goal is to recruit 500 churches to Take The Pledge to keep Books For Soldiers open for 2011. If they are interested they need to fill out the form and our founder will contact their church leaders and explain the program to them and help them set-up a soldier ministry in their church. Or, they can download our Guide for Pastors and Deacons http://sundayforsoldiers.org/sundays-for-soldiers.pdf.
A few fun and personal questions…
What kind of books do you like to read?
I like reading any Georgia O’Keeffe books, Art History and Ancient
Egyptian History books, poetry, and I love biographies.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re relaxing with the radio or an mp3 player?
I find traditional Hawaiian and Bluegrass music very relaxing. I love to listen to the radio music show, The Music Of Your Life, but when I want to get my blood flowing I listen to Elvis Presley and his old gospel tunes.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
I would be a song that comes out of a cylinder music box.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
The super heroine—a member of the Incredibles family. But instead of fighting crime, I’m fighting the hackers of our website, I’m fighting to get hundreds of packages shipped overseas to soldiers for Christmas, fighting to get the word out about our cause, fighting to get more volunteers, more donations so that we can continue our work in 2011.
As a pet lover, I have to ask… are there any four-legged volunteers helping out at the Books For Soldiers headquarters?
Yes, my Nephew Dog (my sister’s dog), Max, licks the stamps.
Thanks, Janet, for all that you and others do for our military men and women.
Thanks, Kathy, for helping me spread the word about BookForSoldiers.com.
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For more information about Books For Soldiers, logon to their website at www.booksforsoldiers.com/.
To read the founder’s statement, logon to http://www.booksforsoldiers.com/aboutus.php.
To follow BFS on Twitter: http://twitter.com/books4soldiers
To follow BFS on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=5349442735