Palmerston North Book Sale unites people across region

27 April 2023

New Zealand Red Cross stalwart Jill Spicer describes it as proof of how “little acorns can grow”. Since its inception more than 30 years ago, the Palmerston North Red Cross Annual Book Sale has grown into a three-hall, four-day, weekend extravaganza that unites the community.

In the early 1990s, a group of volunteers (spearheaded by future Mayor of Palmerston North, Heather Tanguay) decided to put on a book sale as a fundraiser for New Zealand Red Cross. The first event was held in a marquee in the back garden of a local Red Cross building. Heather remembers the event well. “It poured with rain and people had to traipse through mud. We earned $1,000, and we were thrilled.”

Event details

  • When: Friday 2 June to Monday 5 June. Doors open from 10 am.
  • Where: Barber Hall, Waldegrave Street, Palmerston North. 

From small beginnings to four-day event

Since those humble, muddy beginnings, the Book Sale has grown into the present four-day event that unites community groups, schools, and people from across the province. The event sells books, CDs, DVDs, jigsaw puzzles, and more, bringing in both visitors and donations to New Zealand Red Cross.

Book sale organiser Jill Spicer

Book sale organiser Jill Spicer

Jill became involved in organising the event close to 15 years ago. She is stepping down from her role after this year’s book sale, leaving a legacy that has grown the Palmerston North Red Cross Annual Book Sale from boutique to bonanza.

She says these days the vast growth of the Book Sale has meant starting early. Nearly 4,000 boxes of books – each weighing roughly 15kg – need to be relocated up to six times before everything is ready, displayed on the tables for the eager shoppers. If you do the maths, that’s 60 tonnes being moved each event!

It takes a village

Volunteers begin to set up the halls more than a week before the doors open.

“On the Sunday (before the start of book sale), we start taking down all the books, hopefully with an army of strong young people to help us. We have two shifts of helpers from Palmerston North Boys’ High School and more support from the New Kiwis Youth Group – a group made up of former refugees who have settled in the area. We also have helpers from Legacy Church Group and the Rovers, who are grown-up Scouts,” Jill says.

Once the books are on site, a large contingent of students from Tū Toa Tai Wānanga arrive with sack barrows to move the boxes to the correct tables. Reinforcements come from adult students from two different language schools – many of them former refugees who help out as a way to give back to New Zealand Red Cross.

“I have another hat – refugee services – so a lot of people that come along to help put out books, I know them and their families,” Jill says. “I also used to be an English as a second language teacher, so I know many from there.”

The Book Sale is finally ready to go on the Friday and in addition to raising money, keeping the wealth of volunteers fed is a big priority. Jill says the kitchen is the heart of the whole exercise, and local businesses contribute generously to make sure there is plenty to go around.

“Across the week of set up and sales days we feed all the volunteers morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. On our late night Friday we also have a much-appreciated dinner, donated by Dominos Pizza,” she says. “In terms of feeding all the people, the community is amazingly supportive. We get so much Yoplait yoghurt we need an extra fridge (also generously loaned - by Target Rentals). Lisa and Eric, from the Saturday market stalls give us vegetables that volunteers take home to bring back as delicious soup. Chilli Box donates food as well. The whole community is involved – a friend of mine said it’s like a big, long party.”

Money goes to New Zealand Red Cross

All money raised across the four days goes to New Zealand Red Cross. At a local level, Jill says some of the money is allocated to supporting former refugee families who have recently moved to the area, while the rest goes to supporting other New Zealand Red Cross initiatives both here and overseas.

“We use some of the money to purchase warm duvets for new settlers in the Palmerston North area, so no one goes to bed cold. We are also able to buy other things to plug the gaps that aren’t filled by donations.

Returning year after year

While Jill is winding down now, she finds it’s the team spirit that has kept her coming back year after year.

“It takes a village to run a book sale,” she says. “This time of the year for me it is just go, go, go – but the volunteers make it worth it. I have pages of things that need to be done and the same people come back each year. I ask them ‘are you okay to do so and so’ and it gets done. Working together with lots of goodwill – goodwill is the heart of the enterprise.”

While COVID-19 made for a quiet couple of years, the crowds returned in spades last year. Jill’s advice for anyone aiming to reach similar heights when fundraising for the New Zealand Red Cross is simple – come and have a chat.

“We would swamp them with tales of our experience – we’d also probably give them plenty of books! It’s been going on for so long that we have plenty to share,” Jill says.

“A woman was telling me recently that her adult children used to come to this book sale as children. They’ve grown up and live in Australia now but they time their visit back to family in New Zealand to coincide with the book sale, so they can take their own children along.”

It’s people like Jill Spicer that help New Zealand Red Cross make a big difference in our communities. We’d like to thank Jill for her years of service and helping to make the Palmerston North Red Cross Annual Book Sale the must-attend event it is today.

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