Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Making A Difference With Books

Tokalopulli -- "an old crossing place"

Hundreds of years ago, the Chickasaw Indians traveled through what is now Pontotoc County Mississippi on their way to and from the Chickasaw Bluffs (Memphis, TN). At one point along the way, their trail intersected another trail from the south used by the Choctaws. An old crossing place.

To my knowledge, the Indians didn't have books back when they walked the Toccopola Trail, but if they had, they could have stopped off at the Toccopola Community Center and exchanged those books for books of equal value, with no requirement to return them. Okay, so that's historically inaccurate, but it makes a good segue into present-day Toccopola, and the good work being done by the Toccopola Homemakers Club.

With a population of 254, the town isn't quite big enough for a full-fledged public library (they have a good one a dozen or so miles to the east in the town of Pontotoc), but that didn't stop Margaret Ratliff, Harley Ann Thorne, Mary Frances Stepp, Melba Edwards, and the other members of their club from making books available to those with restricted travel as well as to those who simply like the idea of exchanging fiction with their friends and neighbors.
Margaret and Harley Ann

The Book Exchange began as a yearly project for the Homemakers Club. They liked the idea of offering a free service to the community while promoting literacy. As the idea took root, the members gathered books from their personal collections or purchased new books in order to stock the shelves their husbands would build with donated lumber and labor. Most southern men can drive a nail and operate a circular saw, especially when their wives ask them to.

Thanks to the mayor and board of aldermen, they were allowed to convert a small office in the community center to use as their library. Later, as their inventory of books outgrew the small room, two of the husbands built rolling bookshelves, allowing the library to expand into the larger meeting area during operating hours.

On the first Saturday of every month, from 9 AM to 11 AM, the Book Exchange opens for business. Margaret and Harley Ann
usually arrive early to roll the shelves out and lug the boxes of books from the tiny library to the tables in the meeting area. The exchange has between one and two thousand books now, and routinely donates books to nursing homes, assisted living centers, The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Sanctuary Hospice House in order to keep their inventory manageable.

"If we know of someone who is disabled or ill, we will take some books to them or send them by their neighbor," says Margaret.

Toccopola Book Exchange receives no outside funding. All expenses are paid by the Homemakers
Club. The town provides the space free of charge because the mayor and aldermen realize the value of providing literary services to its citizens.

On a typical Saturday, the Book Exchange sees between ten and fifteen people. While that may not
sound like a lot, by my math, it is roughly 6% of the population participating on a regular basis.

The Homemakers Club won first place at State the year they started the Book Exchange, then followed it up later by winning first place for the Drive-thru Book Bank project on the corner near the Betty Allen Monument. Who was Betty Allen you ask? Google that one. Toccopola, you see, is as rich in history as it is in present-day community service.

The Book Exchange is more than an exchange of books. It's the exchange of fellowship and good will among neighbors. How can you help? By using the service. Exchanging books keeps the library alive.

What can you do to serve your community?

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