How First Book Gained an Army of Warehouse Workers …

Boxes of books in a First Book warehouseWe move a lot of books at First Book. Over five million books last year, to schools and programs serving kids from low-income communities, and those cases of books are HEAVY.

Sometimes people assume we have a warehouse somewhere, maybe at our national headquarters in DC. We definitely do not. (Our staff is doubled up in many of our offices, so there is definitely no room for giant pallets filled with books. Not to mention the difficulty of driving great big trucks through the streets of our nation’s capital).

So where do all these books come from?

When our friends at publishing companies donate books to First Book, we need warehouses to put them in. In years past, we have relied on a network of generous volunteers throughout the country, and we continue to do so. But with donated space you sometimes have to move inventory in and out quickly, and it can be hard to plan in advance.

So First Book, in partnership with an innovative high school program in Martinsburg, West Virginia, decided to put students to work moving our books around.

“What First Book has been able to do has totally revitalized the program,” said Doc Greenfield, who runs the warehouse program in Martinsburg. “Now, working with First Book, we have real product, real purpose and real customers.”

Warehouse management and materials handling are useful skills to have in today’s job market, and there are programs in high schools all over the country that teach them. But not many companies want to trust their inventory to warehouse workers who lack experience, so the students in these programs often resort to moving empty grocery boxes. Helpful, but not as helpful as dealing with real inventory.

However, it just so happens that First Book has TONS of real inventory, in the form of books. And we mean tons. And, since we want to spend every last penny we can getting new books into the hands of kids in need, we’re happy to trust those pallets to students in warehouse programs. (It turns out that the students do every bit as good a job as the professionals). On top of that, every school warehouse program we work with gets to keep a small portion of the books for eligible programs their community.

Greenfield runs a two-year program, and he has many success stories; it’s been easier for his students to get work with their hands-on experience. “I’m trying to get them ready for the real world,” he said.

In addition to Greenfield’s program in West Virginia, First Book works with warehouse programs in Altoona, Pa., Rock Hill, S.C., and Lake City, Fla., and we’re working to sign up several more.

The program has been a great partnership, with major benefits for First Book – letting us control our inventory of books to make sure they go to the places that need them.

“At any given point in time, we can hold half-a-million books,” said Rachael Voorhees, who heads up First Book’s logistics team. “We’ve never been able to say that before. It’s huge.”