Call of Duty
Wendy Shiner is on a mission to provide hospitalized and active duty veterans with books. If only she knew why.
Inspiration never sleeps, even while Wendy Shiner does. Inexplicably awakened late one night, her Winter Springs home quiet and dark, Shiner had a light bulb turn on in her head: Books and veterans.
Or was it veterans and books? Doesn’t matter. She loved books and appreciates the service of military vets. When morning broke, a new day dawned for Shiner.
A few months later Shiner, 55, is at the Orlando Veterans Administration Medical Center near Baldwin Park. She has visited dozens of times since the idea popped into her head. On this trip she delivers two boxes filled with National Geographic magazines, many more than 40 years old. She can’t explain why she does this, collecting books, magazines, board games and video movies for vets in the hospital and nursing home. “You cannot appreciate how dumbfounded I am with this,” she says of her newfound passion. She has no familial link to the military.
Back in August, when the idea came to mind, she visited the center’s library to gauge its needs. “When I walked in there the first time, I said, ‘This place needs books.’” Afterward she started Books for Vets (its Web site is booksforvets.com) as a nonprofit. She picks up donations from collection bins she has placed with local retailers and at a doctor’s office. She also solicits donations from church rummage sales and booksellers on craigslist.com. Her garage is filled with boxes of books.
“We collect anything that somebody in a wheelchair would want to read,” she explains. “I’m trying to get large-print and picture books. The picture books would be for vets with dementia.”
Sandra Mayhle, chief of voluntary services at the vet center, says Shiner came at the right time, just as the Postal Service stopped dropping off undeliverable books to the hospital. “I get tons of books from Wendy. She’s been fabulous,” Mayhle says.
Shiner has grand ambitions for Books for Vets, hoping to set up a service in every state. Already she has shipped boxes of books to facilities in Arkansas and Port Charlotte, Florida. And she wants to ship books to active duty vets in Iraq and Afghanistan, but she no longer can afford to pay the freight costs. She works as a property appraiser, and business is way off. In May, Books for Vets will hold a golf tournament to raise funds.
A voracious reader herself, Shiner says books help provide the Orlando center’s 120 vets, whose service ranges from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan, with a diversion from their predicaments.
“You can go anywhere in your mind when you read,” she says. “It’s the cheapest escape you can possibly have.”