The doors slide open to another group of Wednesday volunteers at 9:30 AM. Corporate workers from the surrounding area shuffle in, wearily rubbing their eyes. Alongside them, middle-school aged students excitedly run circles around their teachers. It is the earliest volunteering time-slot at Bernie’s Book Bank, and everyone gathers together at the front of the Processing Center to receive instructions on what they will be doing for these next two hours. After a short series of helpful instructions and rousing motivation, the groups disperse across the Processing Center to begin their shift.
For many of the volunteers in attendance, this is the first time they have set foot in Bernie’s Book Bank. If it is not the first, it is the second, or the third.
But for a certain group, hidden away at the back of the Processing Center, it is not the first time they have been here. Or the second, or the third. Between the nine people in this group, they have a combined 32 years of experience volunteering at Bernie’s Book Bank. When you ask them if they are a part of the “50 Hour Club,” most can’t help but laugh. Of course they are! They have all shattered that goal, most of them have eclipsed 100 hours each in their years of volunteering.
They all began volunteering at Bernie’s Book Bank for a different reason. Nearly all of them are retired, and some of them were looking for a volunteering opportunity to fill the time that their work once filled. Others were dragged along by friends or loved ones, one of these morning risers cheekily admits he would not be here if it wasn’t for his wife. One volunteer in this group was an elementary school teacher, and says she was looking for the non-profit that she believed could best serve the education of underprivileged children in the area.
Whatever the reason they originally came to Bernie’s Book Bank was, they now all come back for the same reason. This small group has made the effort to come back on the same day, at the same time, for each other. These volunteers have become something of a social club, with their interactions reaching far beyond the walls of Bernie’s Book Bank. When one of the group successfully summited Mt. Kilimanjaro a few years ago, they joined together in celebration at one of their houses. For a number of months, one of these early risers had to move their shift to Monday morning. To surprise him, the rest of the group showed up that Monday morning to volunteer with him. And like any social club in the Chicagoland area, they will be taking advantage of the warm weather with a trip to Wrigley later in June.
The comradery that this Wednesday morning group of volunteers has found at Bernie’s Book Bank is rare to stumble upon. It would be even rarer to find a group as close as this, that has made a greater impact on the lives of so many at-risk children in the Greater Chicago area. The effort would be futile to attempt to calculate the total number of books that they have had a part in sending out to schools in need. Without these individuals, as well as over 45,000 other volunteers, Bernie’s Book Bank would not be able to help disadvantaged children read their way to a brighter future.