> Books

We are temporarily closed because of the stay-at-home order. We cannot accept drop-off donations until we open again.

Please read this entire page before donating 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.

Please do not leave books outside our building.

Also shop our wish list at Women & Children First. Buy online some of the books we really need and we’ll pick them up—no shipping fee, no wasteful packaging. And your purchase benefits not just the people we serve, but one of Chicago’s best independent bookstores. You can also buy a gift card, making it easy to help us if you can’t decide what to buy. Gift cards also make it easy for us to buy urgently needed books, such as on specific medical conditions.

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. We also happily accept advance reader copies (ARCs).

Librarians: We welcome discarded books that meet the requirements on this page. Library markings are fine and we gently remove any stickers that we can without marring the book. We also gently remove any front page with a pocket or the pocket itself, if possible, if it’s affixed to the inside front cover.

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
  • Study Bibles (we do not need Christian books other than this and the next two items)
  • Bibles (we often get requests for specific translations, so having a variety helps)
  • Bible dictionaries and concordances
  • Astrology
  • Dream dictionaries
  • Yoga
  • Exercise that doesn’t require equipment
  • Meditation
  • Crafts (such as crochet, beading, cardmaking, and other papercrafts)
  • Business administration, bookkeeping, accounting, writing a business plan, and other books on business
  • Drawing, painting, and calligraphy
  • Graphic novels and manga
  • Celebrity memoirs and biographies, especially current music stars (all genres) and Marilyn Monroe
  • Bilingual poetry books (Spanish and English)
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Daily affirmations
  • Cookbooks, especially those with pictures
  • Gardening and horticulture
  • Dogs, especially training service dogs
  • 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 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 people in prison—jailhouse lawyer manuals, criminal law, criminal and civil procedure, post-conviction remedies, habeas corpus relief, pro se representation, rules of evidence, family law, immigration law, legal research, legal writing, and law dictionaries (please ask first if you have others you think we could use)
  • 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, small engine repair, etc.)

We also accept lightweight composition books with bendable cardboard covers (no hard or plastic covers) and no metal or spiral 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 because they’re glued in. (Composition books cannot be shipped by Media Mail.)

We cannot use the following materials:

  • Hardcover books
  • Books with spiral binding, stickers (as a key component whose removal would diminish the book’s usefulness), glitter, or other unconventional materials
  • Books with more than very minimal writing inside (like an inscription)
  • 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 genres or 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.

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.

1,193 packages so far in 2020!

In 2019, we sent 5,117 packages—more than 15,300 books and composition books—to women and trans people locked up across the country. (In 2018 we sent 4,852 packages.) Big, big thanks to all our supporters because we couldn’t do it without you. (updated March 15, 2020)

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.

Shop our wish list today

Buy books we need online and we pick them up—no shipping fee, no wasteful packaging. (Or buy a gift card if you can’t decide!) Your purchase benefits not just the people we serve, but one of Chicago’s best indy bookstores.

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