Ukazoo Books offering free used books for canned food items

The holidays and the season of giving are still a few months off, but one local bookstore has stepped up its efforts to help a food bank through one of its toughest seasons of need.

Ukazoo Books, in Towson, is holding its second annual canned food drive to benefit the Assistance Center of Towson Churches, a food pantry and assistance center in downtown Towson.

During August, anyone who brings three canned food items for donations will receive a free used book from Ukazoo. The store is located in Dulaney Plaza, on Dulaney Valley Road across from Towson Town Center.

"Lots of people do food drives through November and December, but this is a slow time for food banks," store manager Edward Whitfill said. "We think this is a good time of year to try and remind people to help."

Whitfill decided to hold the store's first food drive last summer after seeing a newspaper article that detailed the high demand for food at local food pantries in the summer months.

Last year's drive raised 15 boxes of canned goods, a donation that Maria Wetherington, assistant director of the assistance center, truly appreciated.

"It was great, considering it was just one business doing it," Wetherington said. "They really put the word out and told customers about it. … They did a great job."

Last year's campaign was solely promoted within the store, but this year, Whitfill took out a newspaper advertisement to publicize the event.

Still, nearly a third of the way through the month, Whitfill said participation has dropped from last year, a decline he attributes to the closing of the Superfresh in the plaza, next door.

He said last year, customers would see the promotion and make the short walk over to the grocery store for a couple canned food items, an option that's no longer available.

That's not to say his customers' willingness to help those in need has diminished — Whitfill said that a separate campaign at Ukazoo, to benefit the Edgar Allen Poe House, in Baltimore, had raised $660 as of last week.

"They're two neighbors in need around here," Whitfill said. "Times are tough."

Summer hunger

It's an especially lean time at the Assistance Center of Towson Churches, which often struggles in the summer months.

"Summer is one of our hardest times," Wetherington said. "Churches support our ministry by providing food and funds, but things slow down in the summer time.

"A lot of people are coming in (for help) for the first time ever," she said. "We have people that have been coming for years and getting food, but we've seen such an increase in the number of people coming in for the first time."

Wetherington cited several reasons for the increase this summer, not the least of which is the struggling economy. But she noted that food stamps are being cut back, and that for families with school-aged children, the summer months can be among the hardest.

"When they're out of school, there is no lunch program," she said. "There's no breakfast for them, and there's no lunch. So, their food bill is higher. That creates a higher need."

"Right now, we're literally going out to the grocery store and purchasing food," Wetherington said. "We don't have anything extra in our pantry right now."

Knowing that, Whitfill has targeted the summer for his annual food drive, and hopes the store's effort can make things easier for the "great people" who volunteer at the Assistance Center, as well as those they serve.

"They volunteer their time and try to make sure they have a way of helping people, and it's not just food. This is the least we can do to try to help them out."

Ukazoo Books is located in Dulaney Plaza on the Dulaney Valley Road at Fairmount Avenue, and is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday. Limit two free books per customer per day and eight total for the campaign.

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