St. John Episcopal books donated to jail, assisted living centers

The Fort Smith Church also gives books to assisted living centers


Mary Jane Mustard was the first to say it.

“Buck A Book,” she said one day while working in the bookstore at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Fort Smith. She spoke of a stack of books left over from a sale. The name of a free book gifting program stuck.

This is the name for an ongoing collection of hundreds of donated books each month that find new homes in the Sebastian County Jail or Assisted Living Centers.

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Mustard started the program seven years ago to get the most out of books.

“I started it. I’m the coordinator.” She spelled her last name, “Mustard. Just like you put your hamburger on.”

She remembers walking down a hallway of St. John’s Episcopal Church, 214 N. 6. The bookstore, which is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., sells books for $1. Some of the antique books cost $5, such as several by Winston Churchill, Mustard said.

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There were a few books left over from a sale in the bookstore, she said.

“I said, ‘Why can’t we get them out and let people have them?'” Mustard recalled.

On a Sunday morning she sold these leftovers for a “buck a book”. The name stuck. “Seven years later we are here.”

The free books are taken to prison. These are the paperbacks that are used.

“We take them regularly now. We had been closed due to COVID and weren’t allowed to take any,” Mustard said.

Before the pandemic, church volunteers were delivering books to 31 assisted living centers, she said. Book donations have resumed.

A church volunteer takes the paperbacks to the jail.

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“Hardcovers are considered a weapon,” Mustard said.

Books are also donated to the Community Rescue Mission.

“It’s just an operation that doesn’t cost anyone money,” Mustard said.

There are children’s books.

“We encourage parents to read to their children at night,” Mustard said. “It’s an ongoing ministry.”

She said thousands of books have been donated and hundreds are being donated each month. A church volunteer brings boxes to the jail. Recently, seven boxes of books were donated to savers going to the Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club.

Book donations can be arranged by calling Mustard at 479-883-1488.

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