USPS continues to throw Imagination Library books in trash

USPS continues to throw Imagination Library books in trash

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These are some of the undelivered books rescued from the USPS. These are some of the undelivered books rescued from the USPS.
Jeff Conyers, executive director of the Dollywood Foundation, understands the position of the USPS, but hopes they can come to a resolution. Jeff Conyers, executive director of the Dollywood Foundation, understands the position of the USPS, but hopes they can come to a resolution.

By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

PIGEON FORGE (WATE) -  New books meant for Tennessee children are being thrown away by local post offices for the second time.

Back in February, 6 News first reported the problem of books provided by Dolly Parton's Imagination Library returned to the United States Postal Service ending up in the trash.

About two percent of the books sent out to children each month from Imagination Library are returned to the post office because they are undeliverable, usually because the family has moved and not notified the organization or post office. 

For years, volunteers were able to come by and simply pick those books up, but the USPS says the organization was receiving a service that other businesses pay for.

Starting in February, the USPS gave the non-profit six months to figure out a plan, but that time is up and those books are going back in the trash.

"It breaks my heart that these books are being shredded," said Judi Davis, the coordinator for McMinn County Imagination Library.

Davis has worked for the organization for seven years. In McMinn County, they serve more than 2,500 children each month; one of the largest percentages for a county in all of Tennessee.

About two percent of those books are returned to each month to the post office.

"[Last month] we had 56 books that were shredded, done away with, wasted," Davis said.

At the Dollywood Foundation in Pigeon Forge, a room is filled with undelivered books rescued from the post office.

"One key pieces of why we want these books back so bad is because we're able to track the family down and keep the books going to the child," explained Jeff Conyers, executive director of the Dollywood Foundation.

For the last six months, the Dollywood foundation has been in talks with the USPS, examining their process to ensure fewer books are returned.

"The USPS called it impeccable, so I think we're doing everything that we can on our side to make sure our addresses are as accurate as possible," explained Conyers.

However, the US Postal Service says they can't return the books for free.

"The Postal Service appreciates Imagination Library's business and acknowledges its service to the community.  However, the Postal Service cannot offer a free service to one organization when other organizations and businesses are paying for the same services," said David Walton, a spokesperson for USPS in a statement.

As a non-profit, Imagination Library pays a reduced rate for standard shipping. It does not include forwarding or return service. In February, Walton explained once the books are returned, they are considered waste and must be destroyed.

Paying the extra fee is not an option for the organization.

"We purchase the book and mail it for just over $2 per child per month. In order to pay to get a book back it costs over $4 per child per month.  It's more than double to get the book back, than for what it cost for book and the mailing originally, and that's just not a road we want to go down," Conyers said.

Conyers says he understands where the USPS is coming from, but he believes it costs more for them to destroy those books. While they don't have an answer yet, they do have optimism.

"We're just trying to do a service for kids in communities all across the country. It doesn't make sense in my mind to pay an elevated price to get these books back. I believe it costs less for them to return them to the community than to pay to have a service pick them up and destroy them, it's just common sense at the end of the day," explained Conyers.

Imagination Library is working with local representatives to see if there's a way to change these regulations on a federal level. Both Sen. Lamar Alexander and Congressman Chuck Fleischmann are working with the Dollywood Foundation and the USPS.

For now, there is no solution and those books are continue to be tossed in the trash.

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