> Books

Please read this entire page before shipping or dropping off books. We are well stocked and storage space is limited. Also, check with us first:

  • If what you want to donate isn’t listed below.
  • Before organizing a book drive.
  • Before assembling a donation of more than a few books.

We get many requests for certain kinds of books that are rarely donated. Please take a look on your bookshelves. You may find books that we could put to good use. Or buy one (or more) for us the next time you shop for books.

Please bookmark this page on your smartphone for easy reference.

Books should be in very good condition, as we aim to send the best quality possible to the women we serve. New or nearly new books are especially appreciated as some prisons require them. Advance reader copies (ARCs) are welcome.

Here are the paperback books we need most as they’re always in high demand, but rarely donated. In general, we can only use books that are 10 years old or less.

  • Urban fiction and Christian urban fiction
  • True crime
  • Wicca
  • Dictionaries—mainly English, but also English-Spanish and other languages, as well as Bible, Scrabble and crossword puzzle dictionaries
  • Astrology
  • Dream dictionaries
  • Yoga
  • Exercise that doesn’t require equipment
  • Meditation
  • Crafts (such as crochet, beading, cardmaking and other papercrafts)
  • Drawing, painting and calligraphy
  • Graphic novels and manga
  • Bilingual poetry books (Spanish and English)
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Daily affirmations
  • Cookbooks, especially those with pictures
  • Books in Spanish—fiction and non-fiction
  • Books by and for prisoners and former prisoners
  • Disability (specific conditions, practical guidance and memoirs)
  • Mental health, especially depression, anxiety and trauma/PTSD
  • Grief and loss
  • Language learning—mainly Spanish, but many others too, including American Sign Language (beginners’ and self-study books are especially useful)
  • Prison life and prison issues
  • Reentry and life after prison
  • Large print fiction and nonfiction
  • Bisexual fiction and nonfiction
  • Native American fiction and nonfiction
  • Puzzle books, especially Sudoku, word searches, crosswords and fill-ins
  • English as a Second Language (especially for Spanish speakers)
  • Game instructions (no card decks or other game materials)
  • Recovery and addiction (general and specific substances, practical guidance and memoirs)
  • Starting and running a business or non-profit
  • Computer books—must be current
  • Legal books appropriate to the needs of the women we serve—jailhouse lawyer manuals, criminal law, criminal and civil procedure, post-conviction remedies, habeas corpus relief, pro se representation, rules of evidence, family law, legal research, legal writing, law dictionaries (please ask first if you have others you think we could use)
  • Study Bibles (we do not need Christian materials other than this and the next item)
  • Bible dictionaries and concordances
  • Specific medical conditions
  • Career/job overviews and training—from auto mechanic to zookeeper, chances are we’ll need a book on it soon
  • Cosmetology (hair, nails and makeup)
  • Nursing, including current exam review books
  • Daily devotionals
  • Math (elementary school and above) and science (high school and above)
  • Trade skills (plumbing, HVAC, etc.)

We also accept lightweight composition books with bendable cardboard covers (no hard or plastic covers) and no metal, spiral or string binding. Colorful and patterned covers are a plus. This is not the kind of notebook that is three-hole-punched and whose pages come out easily. (Composition books cannot be shipped by Media Mail.)

We cannot use the following materials:

  • Hardcover books
  • Books with spiral binding
  • Magazines
  • Computer books and textbooks more than five years old
  • Flash cards, playing cards, tarot cards and similar items
  • Board games, game supplies and jigsaw puzzles
  • Encyclopedias
  • DVDs, CDs, VHS tapes and cassettes
  • Laminated sheets
  • Loose origami paper (we happily accept bound books of origami paper like this)

Other important information:

  • We do not need coloring books or children’s books at this time.
  • We do not need most fiction, nonfiction or Christian materials in English other than what is on the list above. This is because we receive a continuous supply of these books throughout the year. But please feel free to check with us by email as you may have some wildly popular or hard-to-find authors.
  • Our storage space is extremely limited. Please keep in mind that when books are donated that we can’t use, we must find somewhere to donate them in turn (or recycle them if they’re simply too old or in poor condition).
  • A tax-donation receipt is available upon request.

If you’re not sure based on the information above whether we can use your books, please ask first.

You may drop off your books 2–4:30 pm any Saturday or Sunday. We’re located at 4511 N. Hermitage Ave. (Hermitage and Sunnyside). We’re only two blocks from the Montrose Brown Line stop. There is also plenty of free street parking and a loading zone in front. Please do not simply leave books outside the church where we make our home. 

If you would like to mail books, please send by USPS at the Media Mail rate to:

Chicago Books to Women in Prison c/o RFUMC
4511 N. Hermitage Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640

Questions? Want to make a large donation—that is, more than a bag or box of books? Need to make special arrangements for getting your books to us? Think we may be interested in something that isn’t listed? Please ask at chicagobwp@gmail.com.

> Money

We welcome financial contributions of any amount. In addition to about $1,400 in postage each month, we also pay rent and have frequent expenses for supplies and equipment. We accept donations by PayPal—use the button on the right—or you may mail a check or money order to the address at the bottom of the page.

We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and our EIN is 45-5271700. All or part of your gift may be tax-deductible as a charitable contribution. Please check with your tax adviser.

> Supplies

We also appreciate the following: donations of postage stamps, 9″ x 12″ non-padded manila envelopes without metal clasps (for sending composition books) and 2″-wide clear packing tape. (These cannot be included in packages shipped by Media Mail.)

We ship bulk to a number of prisons—that is, we pack several book orders in one carton. This saves on postage, but it means we always need sturdy corrugated shipping boxes. A good size is approximately 16″ x 12″ x 12″ or a little smaller. Boxes should be in good condition and flattened; they can have logos or old shipping marks.

We use USPS flat mail trays to organize our weekly mail pickup. (Here’s what they look like.) They’re free at any Post Office. Mention that you need a few for business mail preparation and pickup.

We do not need brown paper grocery bags, which we used to use for packaging book orders.


IMPORTANT: Learn more before donating books
Please check with us before organizing a book drive or putting together a donation of more than a few books from your own library. We are well stocked and storage space is limited.

1,558 packages so far in 2019

Focusing on all women and trans/non-binary people, last year we sent 4,852 packages to people locked up across the country—nearly 13,500 books and composition books in all. Big thanks to all our supporters because we couldn’t do it without you! (updated April 22, 2019)

Help us get the most wanted books!

Check out the books we always need
SPOTLIGHT: Urban fiction and true crime

• Shop our Amazon wish list (feel free to buy from the list at other stores)

Donate money quickly and easily

Or send your check or money order to 4511 N. Hermitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60640. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Your gift may be tax-deductible.

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