Camarda Brothers Spread Cheer Through Holiday Book Drive

While many students left campus in December ready for relaxing winter breaks, Nick Camarda ’12 and Michael Camarda ’14 flew home to get their charity book drive ready for the holidays.

Nick and Michael Camarda’s Bookcase, based in Orange County, California, is a project in which the brothers collect, gift wrap and distribute new and gently used books to underprivileged children throughout the area.

The brothers partnered with Steve Matloff ’91, Non Sibi Chair for Southern California, to host a book-wrapping event on December 12, 2010 in Laguna Hill, California where 175 Andover students and alumni hand-wrapped each of the 6,000 books individually.

Nick said, “It was a great sight to see people that we didn’t even know giving up their time during the holiday season to help with our cause because of the Andover bond we all share.”

Carmada’s Bookcase receives books from the Southern California area, personal mentors at Andover and purchases through several monetary checks.

The Camardas started their non-profit organization in 2007. The Camarda brothers organized their second Non Sibi Day event in the southern California area this year. Nick said that Andover students in the area came to help collect and wrap over 300 books last year.

Nick explained that the brothers came up with the idea for Camarda’s Bookcase when they saw Oprah Winfrey give away toys on her show while local news stated that the illiteracy rate in Orange Country had increased drastically in the past few years.

The brothers could not imagine not owning books, as they both had fond memories of their parents reading to them at young ages. Thus, they decided to give children gift-wrapped books for the holidays.

Nick said, “We hoped that these families would create this same memory of reading books with their parents.”

The brothers expanded their simple idea into a full-fledged non-profit organization by gathering books from their local community, friends, club swim teams, church and orchestras. They spread the word about Camarda’s Bookcase among friends and through Facebook, emails and flyers in their local community centers.

The Camardas said that most low-income families in the Orange County area do not have books in their homes because of necessary expenses like shelter and food. As a result, many children in Orange County have little to no reading experience.

“Reading is an essential skill for all children and adults to survive in the word. Our plan is to combat illiteracy, and therefore poverty, one book at a time,” Nick wrote in an email.

The brother’s organization has expanded in recent years to distribute books throughout the year rather than just the holiday season and to adults and teens in addition to children.

In 2007, Camarda’s Bookcase wrapped and distributed over 900 books. In 2008, they gave over 2,700 books. The organization then donated over 8,500 books in 2009, 4,500 of which were gift-wrapped children’s books.

In 2010, Camarda’s Bookcase collected and gift-wrapped 6,049 books, 1,250 of which were wrapped by members of the Andover community. Nick wrote in an email that the total number of books collected since 2007 to 18,549.

The brothers sort the books themselves and categorize them by age and the condition of the books.

Nick said, “These are memories kids will have for a lifetime. We want to create a passion for reading and learning, and instill a course of success. Don’t we all have a childhood favorite? These kids need that childhood favorite, and now they will be able to get one.”

Camarda’s Bookcase has benefited from collaborations with other non-governmental organizations and various donations. Camarda’s Bookcase first began distributig books at the Santa Ana Community Center’s annual holidays parties in 2007, and now also distributes at the Path of Hope Foundation’s holiday parties as well.

This past year, Camarda’s bookcase donated books to the Santa Ana Police Department and the California State Park Rangers for the officers to distribute during their patrols. John Raya’s TKO Youth Boxing Club in Santa Ana has a library entirely made up of Camarda’s Bookcase donated books.

The Camarda brothers raised money for wounded soldiers and their families and donated books for adults to the Pendleton Marine Base, and provided parenting and self-help books to and created a library in Laura’s House, a domestic violence shelter.

Nick said, “We would like to inspire others to do the same thing in their communities and other parts of the world to help our passion to spread passion and literacy. Anyone can make a difference.”