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Battle Over The Blue Book Bin

WASHINGTON, DC., (WUSA) -- At the Eleanor Ford Reading Center in Prince George's County, putting words together is like taking a final victory lap around a track.

"You guys are doing really great with your reading," says Robin Bruce, the director of the center.

This center operates thanks to dozens of books from a literacy organization called Reading Tree.

"This pushes the skills over the top, having these books for them to read," says Bruce.

Some of those books come from blue bins, like the ones you see in this Virginia parking lot.

They are marked with words like "books for charity" and "donate books, CD's and DVDs."

"Because I'm a Friends of the Library volunteer, I suppose you could say I'm extra sensitive to the appearance of this box," says Pamela Chin.

Pamela Chin is bin skeptic.

The library volunteer, and Reston resident, wanted to know more about the boxes that she says resulted in a 20 percent drop in donations to the Reston Regional Library.

"What I found was very little information about who and what Reading Tree is."

Reading Tree calls itself a non profit group based in Utah.

It sends books collected from bins and purchased from thrift stores and libraries to other schools and organizations that serve low income children.

Reading Tree partners with a company called Thrift Recycling Management which is based in Washington State.

Here at their Forestville, Maryland plant workers sort through books to be donated, resold or recycled.

But you wouldn't know that just by looking at the bins.

Lesli Foster: "Is there a problem with the bins as they're labeled?

Jeff McMullin: "I think there has been. You know, it wasn't our intent to, to create a problem."

But the bins aren't the only problem.

Their financial reports also raise questions too.

In 2009, Reading Tree reported more than 10 million dollars in contributions and grants ... during it's first year of operation.

"That is the valuation basically at $3 per book that Reading Tree determined was appropriate for IRS purposes," says Chin.

But Reading Tree submitted an amended 2009 return to show it had actually taken in LESS than one million dollars.

The amount was about the same in 2010.

TRM - the company Reading Tree partners with - made 27 million dollars that same year.

"I'm not sure this smells right," says Chin.

"Reading Tree is a non profit, 501c 3 totally separate entity from TRM," says Jeff McMullin, Thrift Recycling Management president.

"Thrift Recycling Management - TRM - is a for profit, enterprise. We have a social mission."

TRM President Jeff McMullin says that mission is to put a book in the hands of needy children across the country.

Critics question what percentage of the books actually go to children - and what percentage are resold or recycled. McMullin says it is hard to give specific numbers because that differs from market to market. But, that for every book that is sold - another is donated.

"When you get a box of books from a thrift store, and half of it is magazines or encyclopedia's, then half of those are recycled. Sometimes, it's even more than that. Sometimes, it's less."

Outcry about the bins is growing across the country. The state of Oregon is investigating complaints about how the bins are labeled. But, others are not waiting officials to step in.

The library group in Chevy Chase DC protested so strongly that the Reading Tree bin once here in the Safeway parking lot just off Connecticut Avenue - just steps from the Chevy Chase Community Library - is now gone.

The Friends group at the Southeast DC Library branch has a different view.

"I was delighted to see them because we've always needed more of an outlet for our books," says Mary Wadleigh, a volunteer with that library group.

And, McMullin says, there was never any intent to mislead anyone about how Reading Tree and TRM work together.

"There's no disparity in where the money's going. There's no question. I'd be happy to sit down with any Friends of the Library and go through line by line."

Written by Lesli Foster and Stephanie Wilson
9 News Now and wusa9.com











































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