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One for the books

Less than a year after losing most of a 3,000-book inventory for the Storytelling Guild's "Pass a Book" distribution program, guild members returned to their usual role last week of showering local agencies and nonprofits with books for the community.

Eleven giant boxes for Rogue Community Health?

Check.

A roomful of 20 towering stacks — 54 books each — waiting for Head Start classrooms in Jackson and Josephine counties?

Double check.

Last July, most of the guild's inventory, from board books for young readers to novels for pre-teens, were destroyed in a fire that rendered the home of guild member and self-assigned book collector Anne Billeter a total loss.

Billeter says it was "insult to injury" to lose so many books while watching her home of several decades burn. While some of the books were taken for cleaning and drying out, few were salvageable after being soaked with some 23,000 gallons of water doused on the property by firefighters.

"It was pretty heartbreaking," Billeter says.

Since the fire, and to the delight of the guild, donations have poured in from every corner of the community, from private residents to nonprofits and local agencies hosting drives to get the guild members' book-giving efforts back on track.

Maslow Project, a local nonprofit serving homeless teens and low-income families, equally split a two-pallet supply of books donated for the families they serve.

A winter puppet show at the Collier Center, a large donation by the Maslow Project and employee book drives by the guild's usual recipients helped to refill the storage bins.

"The community response to our expressing a need has truly been phenomenal," Billeter says.

"We received e-mails and have run into people who heard about the fire and would immediately ask, 'Can I write a check?' It's been wonderful and heart-warming."

While still displaced in a smaller residence since the fire, Billeter says being able to resume book distribution provided a needed boost while dealing with the rebuilding of her home.

"We have had so many people who cleaned out the books from their own closets and bookshelves of their own families, or who bought books at local stores," she said.

"I'm in a much smaller space for right now, so I literally have books just about everywhere I look."

Karen Elliott, development director for Rogue Community Health, says it was encouraging to see Billeter and guild members back to their usual operation.

"The brief shortage of book supplies, I'm sure, had been felt by agencies around Southern Oregon," Elliott says. "We just took delivery of 11 boxes and they are in our storage room ready to go to thousands of children who visit our health clinics.

"One of the best feelings, when you look in one of our waiting rooms, is to see a parent and child reading a book together and then to know that they get to take the book home with them."

Elliott likened the brief book shortage to an empty cupboard in a tale older than any of the book recipients or guild members.

"We missed one delivery and our shelves looked like Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard," she quipped.

"Now the drought is over and we're very grateful to see so many books again and to be able to share them with the kids who love them."

On the web: www.storytellingguild.org.

Reach freelance reporter Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Anne Billeter shows off a pile of children's books to be donated to local organizations in the Rogue Valley. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]