First Book Friday: My First Book Distribution

Today’s guest blog post is from Susanne Sparks, an engagement manager at First Book. She’s passionate about leveling the playing field so that all children can learn, grow, and thrive.

Last week, I traveled to Jacksonville, Fla. with three of my colleagues to distribute books via the First Book National Book Bank. As a new staff member, I knew facts about how the First Book National Book Bank operated, but was eager to learn more about the process.

Susanne Sparks

The First Book National Book Bank distributes excess inventory from over 90 publishing partners to educators and youth workers serving children from impoverished homes. Disney Publishing Worldwide donated the 430,000 we processed out of Jacksonville.

The distribution had three phases. Tuesday, apply shipping labels to half of the boxes and get them out the door via six tractor trailers. Wednesday, gather boxes of books for pick-up at the warehouse. Thursday and Friday, meet the recipient group representatives—teachers, youth workers, and other “changemakers”—and help load the books into their cars, trucks, trailers, and yes, even a school bus.

Thursday, I was in charge of the warehouse map. When a recipient arrived, I found their name on our list and relayed where their order was in the warehouse to a volunteer pallet jack driver. As the day was getting started, two older gentlemen took up posts behind a pallet jack. I introduced myself to both. One of the gentleman introduced himself as Roland Gardner. Now, Roland was my great-grandfather’s first name. It went against my every fiber to call him Roland, so instead I settled on Mr. Gardner.

Roland Gardner (Source:

Mr. Gardner and I were quite the team. He always appeared where I needed him. I felt a bit goofy  calling him by his surname in such a casual setting, but it seemed appropriate. And the Florida Times-Union even captured Mr. Gardner in action.

At dinner Thursday night, I told Chris Buckley, the powerhouse organizer and leader behind the Teacher Supply Depot, how much I admired her servant leadership example. She’s an incredibly hard worker and set expectations silently through her actions and not through verbal instructions. I was impressed with her can-do spirit all week.

Chris Buckley

Friday, I delegated the warehouse map to a volunteer and put myself to work fetching, lifting, and moving. I was proud of my contributions and immeasurably thankful for dedicated volunteers and partners.

Walking out of the warehouse for the last time was bittersweet. I was ready to head home but sad to leave the sight of such a meaningful accomplishment. 430,000 books distributed in four days!