Woman Banks Books for Servicemembers

By Stephen Hudson
Special to American Forces Press Service

COLUMBIA, S.C., Oct. 5, 2006 - Jennifer Rochester doesn't really see herself as a heroine. The lending assistant at First Citizens Bank in Conway, S.C., was just looking for a way to clean out some old books in her home when she came up with a project to support the military.

A brief Internet search led Rochester to the "Books for Soldiers" Web site and the idea of donating used books to servicemembers overseas just clicked with her.

"I thought, 'What a great idea,'" Rochester said. "Our soldiers do so much for us. It's just my small part (of doing something for them)."

After gathering up books around her home, she took the idea to work and began asking coworkers for their support. And support her they have.

Market Executive Rebecca Hardwick gave her permission to place donation boxes in the Grand Strand area branches Hardwick oversees. The "Grand Strand" refers to the area of South Carolina that includes Myrtle Beach, Conway and Pawley's Island.

"I have 20 boxes of books and magazines at home ready to be shipped," Rochester said. She estimated she's already shipped 35 boxes of reading material to troops overseas, and donations continue to pour in.

Donations are coming from many sources, including a local veterans group, she said. Even those who bank elsewhere stop by just to drop off books and magazines.

The Surfside Flea Market in Surfside Beach also has collected 4,000 to 5,000 books to help her cause. "Now I just have to figure out a way to go get them," she said.

Her hard work has been well received overseas, too, Rochester said, adding she has received e-mails and three letters from troops serving in Iraq. "It's nice, because I don't expect anything back," she said.

The letters are snapshots into their military lives and what it's like in Iraq. "One woman told me the temperature for that day, and it was 120 degrees," Rochester said.

Donations can be made to a not-for-profit checking account, which has been set up to defray shipping costs. Previously, Rochester had been paying these costs herself.

"We are proud of the commitment and dedication Jennifer has shown for the Books for Soldiers initiative," said Hardwick. "She has put forth a great deal of time and effort in getting this going in the Grand Strand market. The response from our customers and associates has been amazing!"

Rochester said there's no end in sight for her project. "As long as I have someone to send books to, then I'll keep sending them," she said.

(Stephen Hudson works in with First Citizens Bank of South Carolina's Corporate Communications office.)

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