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Gift of Reading

Temporary Escape

Good Shepherd Alliance Thrift Store manager Mary Fittro sorted through hundreds of books in the back of her Sterling shop Monday morning. She has been collecting books for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan for two months.

Three months ago, Loudoun County resident Tom Gard approached Fittro between the Thrift Store’s stacks of books. He asked her for a good deal on a box of books by authors like Tom Clancy and Clive Cussier.

The Vietnam and first Gulf War veteran explained that he wanted to ship books to American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fittro was hesitant to give the books to Gard because she did not know if there would be anyone on the other end to receive and distribute them.

She expressed her concerns to Gard and he said he would take care of it.

Two days later, Fittro received an e-mail from Col. Michael Caples, chief of staff, Civil Affairs Task Force 351, Multi-National Force, in Iraq.

The colonel thanked Fittro and the Good Shepherd Alliance on behalf of the soldiers, Marines and airmen, for their support.

"Unless one has been here, or somewhere like this, it is very difficult to explain. We are far away from home and the people we love. We are in a very foreign place," Caples said in the e-mail. "We are under stress and pressure of varying kinds, but generally of fairly high level. We all need to rest our minds so we can stay focused on the important tasks at hand. Your kindness has made that much easier."

Fittro contacted Gard and told him that he could have the books free of charge.

"Northern Virginia is very generous. We have more than enough," Fittro said. "This is our way of giving back to them. These books can take their mind off of what’s going on there temporarily."

Fittro framed a hard copy of Caples' e-mail and it now sits on a table at the front of the Thrift Store.

ON SUNDAY, the Leesburg Presbyterian Church’s book club members donated hundreds of books to the project.

Several months ago, Leesburg Presbyterian Church parishioner and book-club member Barbara Walker went to the Loudoun County Surplus Store, which sells excess government property and unclaimed items confiscated by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, to buy books for New Orleans public libraries destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

In the back of the surplus store, Walker found five large pallets filled with boxes of books.

"Each pallet had about 20 to 25 boxes of books wrapped in plastic on them," she said. "We bought all five pallets."

The pallets cost $1 each.

"We bought the five pallets for $5," she laughed.

Three weeks ago, Walker called the New Orleans public library she was working with, to confirm the pickup arrangement of the used books. The librarian there informed her that there was no room for the books.

"All of the public libraries and public schools’ libraries are getting new books," Walker said. "We didn’t know what we were going to do, until one of my Bible study friends told me about Good Shepherd Alliance’s project."

Walker contacted Fittro that day.

"They came with two van loads full of books," Fittro said. "Tom’s gonna have a field day in here."

GOOD SHEPHERD Alliance board member Mark Gunderman said Gard is looking for Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark and John Grisham novels specifically.

"These are brainy guys that work 12 hours on, 12 hours off," Gunderman said.

Gunderman added that the soldiers are looking for hardcover books to support the "wear and tear" of a soldier's lifestyle.

"We’re dealing with Northern Virginia’s homeless," Gunderman said. "We started to help overseas because they’re homeless, too."

"Reading whatever it is that captures our imagination, whether fiction or nonfiction, from Clancy to Griffin to the Kellermans to Flynn or whatever, gives us the opportunity to put our minds in a place other than here, for however brief a period, and to rest and rejuvenate our psyches," Caples wrote in his e-mail. "I don’t know if you can appreciate how very important that is."