She was seated at a folding table in the Agriculture Building at the State Fairgrounds. Behind her, hundreds of people sorted and displayed books on tables in preparation for the 63rd annual Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association book sale. The event, held the second weekend of February each year, benefits Literacy Volunteers of Maricopa County and the Friends of Foster Children Foundation.
“Between members and volunteers, we have around 400 people who set up and work the sale,” Dave explained. He and Candy had been with VNSA since 2011.
“We’re the new kids,” Candy joked. “We’ve only been here nine years.”
The couple joined right after the 2011 book sale. Candy had just retired from Chase bank. “We almost never got to go to the sale, because typically I was out of town on work,” she said, then pointed to a fellow member’s plate heaped with pasta. “You should eat that. It’s really pretty good. Anyway, as soon as I retired, I signed up. I like books.”
“We were at the book sale that year,” Dave explained, “and I just went to the information booth and said, ‘How do I volunteer?’”
Candy and Dave started out in Paperbacks. “But first they put me in General Sort,” Candy said, referring to the starting point of VNSA’s intricate organizing system. When books are donated to the association, they’re arranged by category, then priced, boxed, and stored in one of two warehouse locations.
“One of the section chairs watched me sort books and said, ‘You know a lot of different authors. You don’t read just fiction or suspense or mystery.’ In Paperbacks, that came in handy because I could just look at a book and know where it should go.”
She came to the warehouse every Monday to sort and box. When Dave retired, he joined her. Three years ago, the pair left Paperbacks for the Audio-Visual category, which handles donated DVDs, CDs, and record albums.
“Dave and I are both huge CD and DVD fans,” Candy offered. “It was a good fit.”
A VNSA member named Alison stopped at the table. “I’ll be back in 15 minutes,” she told Candy.
“I’ll be timing you,” Candy teased, and Alison laughed and rolled her eyes.
“The best part of the sale is the customers,” Dave said.
“Ninety-nine percent of them are just awesome,” Candy agreed. “Dave has a story about this guy from last year.”
“So, I work as door guard every year,” Dave began. “I’m an introvert by nature, but I like talking to everyone as they’re going out. And last year, about 3 p.m. on Sunday, this guy came by with a box full of books and a big smile. He said, ‘I live in Costa Rica. I heard about this book sale this morning, and I got on a plane, and here I am. Do you know how much these books would cost me in Costa Rica?’”
It didn’t bother Candy that some VNSA shoppers are book dealers. “We love them, even if one or two of them make a mess. They’ll grab a stack of CDs, and they’re scanning every one, which is great, but then they just leave them in a pile, and one of us has to clean up after them.”
She shook her head. “I almost want to say, ‘Your mom wouldn’t let you do that!’”
A volunteer interrupted Candy. “Where did you get your shelves?” she asked, pointing toward the AV section. “We could use something like that in our category.”
“We made ’em,” Candy replied. “The ones we didn’t make, I bought at garage sales. I never pay more than five bucks. Never.”
Displaying things well is the secret to good sales, Candy believes. “You’re not gonna sell it if they can’t see it” is her motto. “And we’re here to sell things.”
Last year VNSA raised just under $400,000. “It was a great year,” Candy said. “It’s been a while since we’ve made more than $400,000, but it’s happened.”
Another group of volunteers appeared. “We’re going to run over and look at the dog show,” a man named Bruce told Candy.
“That’s important,” she agreed. “Go see the dogs. Thank you for all your help today.”
“Those are Teamsters,” Candy confided as they walked away. “They came in this morning and set up all our boxes by color, which was a huge help.”
“We color-code the boxes based on what’s inside them,” Dave explained.
“Nobody does that,” Candy said, sotto voce. “We started it two years ago, but this year some of the boxes didn’t get the right color. I have to really work on that.”
A VNSA member named Angela stopped by to admire another member’s new hairdo. “Is this your new look?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “What do you think?”
“Well, it’s very curly,” Angela replied. The man smiled.
Candy tasted a brownie she’d taken from the lunch buffet. “The only bad part of the sale is Sunday night,” she said. “We close at 4, and by that time everyone is just wiped out. If you’re lucky, you get everything from your area loaded up by 6 or 6:30. Then you get to the warehouse, and you have to unload everything.”
She glanced at Dave. “It’s totally worth it,” she said. “But I’m just saying, we’re not as young as we used to be.”
“We’ve made friends here,” Dave confided. “There are a lot of really good people in this group.”
Candy bit into her brownie and nodded.
“I really hope the guy from Costa Rica comes back this year,” Dave said.