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The Birth Of Big Rig Books

Because of my love for trucking and desire to serve, in 2009 I started Haulin’ for Humanity, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit that provided low cost trucking services to other non-profits and churches.  After working with Feeding America, the Northern Illinois Food Bank and the Harry Chapin Food Bank, a new inspiration to provide books to underprivileged children changed my direction and Big Rig Books was born. 

Big Rig Books has been evolving, and still is, since I first came up with the concept in the spring of 2012 at a benefit for By The Hand, an organization for which my daughter, Cara, works.  The theme for that benefit was “Reading Will Take You Far”.  It stressed the importance of children having their own books at home. 

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As a result, I did a lot of research on the subject of literacy and its relationship to poverty.  I learned that many families can barely put enough food on the table, and the idea of buying books and encouraging reading is not even on their radar.  I grew up living in a bubble thinking that if a person wants to read they would just go get a book.  I also thought that children who go to school would automatically be able to read.  How wrong and naive I was. 

For months thereafter I struggled with how to go about procuring books but was unsuccessful in getting literacy organizations to respond to me.  Then our church, the Christian Church of Clarendon Hills held a book drive for us and we received about 1500 books in two weeks!   Now I was wondering what I was going to do with all those books because, despite that success, I was still running into roadblocks and getting frustrated.  Then I met Mike Ban from Book Worm Angels and Stacey Ratner from Open Books.  They liked my idea, said it had merit, and they encouraged me to move forward.  They suggested I call Paul Natkin from Rock For Reading.  I did and he was generous enough to give me thirty five cases of brand new books without me even having distribution in place.

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Surprisingly, I was told by many people involved in literacy initiatives that book distribution would be as difficult as book procurement.  They were right!  Frustrated again at the lack of response and excitement from schools about my great idea, I was almost ready to give up.  Then I met with a friend, Steve Popper, who founded and operates Meals of Hope in Naples, Florida.  He put me in touch with a person who put me in touch with Karen Clawson from K is for Kids, a literacy initiative in Naples.  She said she had lots of books and loved my idea to use a big rig for distribution.

I already had the truck from Haulin’ for Humanity, now all I needed was a trailer for the books.  By God’s grace, I found a used trailer in St Louis.  I made an offer for less than half for what they were asking, and they accepted.  After cleaning up the trailer, filling it with the donated books, and wrapping the outside of it with cool graphics, my wife, Kathy, and I were on the road ready to distribute books! 

“Build it and they will come” is so true.  We were fortunate enough to meet Ruthie Lohmeyer, an incredible woman from the Lee County school system.  She saw our big rig and loved our idea.  She gave us the “keys to the Principals’ doors” of the schools that she thought were in most need of our books.  They also loved our idea and put us on their calendars immediately.  The word is getting out and we now have schools and organizations calling us for a visit by the BIG RIG! 

Starting Big Rig Books has obviously been very challenging and financially straining.  It also involves an immense amount of work 7 seven days a week.  However, the response of appreciation and encouragement we have received from principals, teachers, students and parents has made it all worthwhile, and I look forward to each and every day with joy and pleasure that Kathy and I can serve these precious children with grace and gratitude.

John C. Gervase
Founder and Executive Director