HOLLAND, Mich. — It’s a strange story, but it’s a good one. It begins with main characters Jay and his kids, who took a Sunday to enjoy the playground behind North Holland Elementary School when his daughter made an interesting discovery.
“We let the kids play and then when we went to throw our trash away, she lifts it up and she goes dad, there’s a bunch of books in here,” said Jay, who only wanted his first name used in this story. “I’ll admit, I thought we’d see just a few books. No, the dumpster was full of books.”
Jay’s first question was an obvious one.
“My first thought was 'why,'” he said, “why are we throwing these away?”
Jay estimates there were hundreds and hundreds of mostly elementary school titles in the bin. But the receptacle, bearing the words "Paper Gator" and a grinning cartoon alligator on the front, isn’t a bin for trash.
“Although it may resemble a trash dumpster, it is actually a receptacle that is used by schools for recycling paper products and generates money that goes back into our schools,” said Brad Corpe, a spokesman with West Ottawa Public Schools, who explained the school was undergoing a common process known as "weeding" – making way for new books by recycling old ones.
Corpe said some of the books included in the weeding were in rough shape, or in some cases, hadn’t been checked out in over a decade.
“As a part of this weeding process, these weeded books were first given to teachers for classroom libraries and students, and the last remaining books were moved to the Paper Gator,” Corpe continued.
And though the reasons for the books ending up in the bin were innocent enough, the story has another chapter. After Jay found the books, he posted pictures on Facebook telling people where to find them. And they certainly did.
“Within just a couple hours of me posting that, we had everybody out here going through it,” Jay said. “They had books lined up all on the fence, taking what they wanted for their family, their friends, their neighbors.”
By Monday afternoon, the entire bin had been cleared out. Once overflowing with books, only a few paper scraps and other recyclables were left in the Paper Gator in a little over 24-hours' time.
“It’s awesome the somebody found them and is making good use of them, so that’s kind of a happy end to this story too,” said Kirsten Stannis, a retired teacher who spent nearly half of her fifteen years in the classroom at Holland Public Schools.
Stannis saw Jay’s post and was also curious about the discovery. But in the comments, she tried to tamper some of the more incendiary comments suggesting the weeding was a waste of taxpayer money, and a good reason to vote "no" on future funding millages.
“A lot of the day-to-day books that kids are handling, a lot of those are owned by teachers,” said Stannis, mentioning that teachers often find their books second-hand at garage sales or from family and friends.
She says because funding is so short, she was discouraged by some comments suggesting the school doesn’t need more money through public funding.
“People are really quick to say like ‘oh when there’s a millage I’m voting against it,’” Stannis said. “There shouldn’t really be a correlation, in my mind as a teacher, between books in a dumpster and voting for a millage or a bond or whatever. We need those strong schools, and that’s a little petty.”
As for the books' fate – that’s undeniably a happy story ending. West Ottawa Public Schools, Stannis, and Jay and his family – who did snag a few books from the bin Sunday – are happy they found new shelves to grace.
“We are happy that the books have found a safe home,” said Corpe.