Carolyn Thompson believes the answer to everything is reading. It can pull people out of poverty, keep them from going to prison and generally improve their lives, she said.
“It’s empowering. You’ve got to know how to read to learn,” Thompson said. “Reading affects everything.”
It “will help break the chain of poverty. Education changes everything,” the Silver Spring resident added.
Thompson doesn’t accept that some people just don’t like to read. It’s just that they haven’t found the right book to start them off, and it’s out there, she said.
Thompson, along with her husband and two of her sons, doesn’t just talk. Their Velocity of Books organization has distributed more than 200,000 books so far and expects to hit the one- million mark in 2020.
“We’ve been distributing thousands of books in this area by the pallet,” for free, she said.
Every one of those books was given out for free at such places as schools, nursing homes, homeless shelters, Catholic Charities, Manna Food Center and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Thompson’s newest venture, a Velocity of Books store on the lower level of the Westfield Wheaton Mall, opens the first week of March. She currently is seeking volunteers to run the store, accept the donations and get the word out.
The company runs on donations, both of money and books. She has some big sponsors, including Amazon and The Washington Post, as well as several local stores.
Some of Thompson’s books come directly from publishing companies; others from bookstores and libraries that otherwise would send their old books to be made into pulp.
It’s not uncommon, she said, for people to drop off books and then walk out with a few of their own. Even the Wheaton Mall is involved as a partner.
“We have a good relationship with the mall. That’s worked out well,” Thompson said, while refusing to indicate what, if any, rent Wheaton Mall is charging Velocity of Books.
Despite all the donations and good will, “The majority of the expenses come out of my pocket, since forever,” said Thompson, a real estate broker.
It all started in 2011, when one of her sons, then a student at Takoma Park Elementary School, wanted to swap books with his classmates, only to discover that not everyone had books to swap.
So, the family got busy and collected lots of books – 600 in all – and set them up at the school’s atrium.
The books were then offered to the students for free.
“That’s the key there, having an ample supply. You are going to have picky readers like you have picky eaters,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s husband, Jack, and two of her sons, Jack, III, and Julian, who are now 13 and 15-years old, are deeply involved and share her desire to put a free book into everyone’s hands.
“They are heavily involved. They really bust their tails,” she said.
Her family “and an army of volunteers” operate the nonprofit, she said, adding, “I can’t do it all alone.” Velocity of Books is involved in other projects. It currently is working with Virginia Tech to build little libraries that can be found in neighborhoods, for passersby to add to or take a book.
These small structures will be “placed in low-income communities” in the area of the college, she said.
Thompson also hopes to set up free book stores in other areas.
The name of the family’s organization comes from a term she learned in a college economics class. The velocity of money refers to the changing of hands of money to buy new things, she said.
For Thompson, no money changes hands, only books.
“We are in our element. When we are giving away books, when you see a smile on someone’s face, it’s just energizing.”
To donate or volunteer, go to velocityofbooks.org