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August 23, 2013

MILK + BOOKIES

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/milk_bookies/

A recent Milk + Bookies book donating party in Santa Monica, CA, photo by Joy Bennett

Milk + Bookies, no that's not the name of a lactating gangster, but a unique and successful non-profit founded by my friend and neighbor, Meredith Alexander.  Pictured above is a recent Milk + Bookies event. Meredith is there in the left background eating ice cream, and the children have just heard the actor dressed up in his colorful outfit read to them.  Now they're coloring after inscribing and donating their books, and eating ice cream! 

Some Hollywood wives (Ms. Alexander is married to Jesse Alexander, a writer and producer best known as Executive Producer of Lost, Hannibal, and several other TV shows) are content to sit back, shop, decorate, and enjoy a life of ease.  Not so with Meredith.  Through determination, creativity, hard work and perseverance, she has developed this non-profit for almost ten years.  It now donates well over 10,000 books annually to needy children and organizations.  She started it in 2004, yet didn’t take a salary until last year, and works full time at the task.  She does have a board and early on asked two friends to help her, one a financial whiz and the other a producer.  However, it was clear from my interview that Ms. Alexander is the driving force behind Milk + Bookies. 

Note:  I have made a small donation to her organization, and have helped take photos at a recent event.  I also intend to get involved to support her efforts – literacy and giving back are two causes that are also very close to my heart. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Alexander on August 20, 2013 at the Milk + Bookies office in Santa Monica, California.  We started by both agreeing how unique and valuable what Milk and Bookies does is, by instilling the habit of helping others at a young age.  It makes giving fun and social; and also supports literacy, always a good thing!

I asked her what prepared her for this job, what did she study in college?  She said she studied at the University of Colorado, but left before graduating to study floral design in London.  Then she was a professional floral designer at several shops in Los Angeles.

I inquired what do her kids think of her job.  She has two lovely boys, one seven, the other twelve.  She thought a moment and then said they like it, they enjoy the events and are proud of the organization.  

I asked what has been her biggest challenge has been with the non-profit, and she said, “Funding, and getting kids to stay excited about giving.  This is hard to track, what happens after their Milk +Bookies event.”

I wondered if she had any recommendations if someone was going to go about starting their own foundation or non-profit.  “There is strength in numbers, don’t try to do it all yourself, work with others, help out an existing organization.  Otherwise your passion [may] get drowned out in administrative tasks.”

She does have a Golden Rolodex of celebrities that have become involved with Milk + Bookies. I asked her if she had any tips on working with well-known personalities.  “No one size fits all.”  Everyone’s different, yet most people are, underneath it all, the same.  She said that the folks who become involved with Milk + Bookies are pretty much in line with the non-profit’s values and there haven’t been many difficulties. 

I asked her about approaching corporations for support, do you always have a personal contact or connection there first?  She said sometimes they do, but some corporations, for example, The Gap, came to them.  

She does have a newly hired Program Manager to help her: Caitlin Young.  Caitlin is a recently UCLA graduate and spent nearly a year at Milk + Bookies as an intern.  Meredith is gradually training her to take on more and more administrative tasks. 

I mentioned what was their yearly budget, and she said, "Our Annual Operating Budget is less than $250,000.” 

I wondered if she had any tips about balancing work and family obligations for working women.  “Not really, it’s always a challenge, especially with two young boys at home.”  I mentioned we both probably lose a lot of sleep, even as I type up this interview at 4 am! 

I asked about her husband Jesse’s involvement.  “Minimally, other than being a supportive husband and cheerleader.”  They met through friends years ago, and have been married for seventeen years. 

Meredith also mentioned that other than organizing the Milk + Bookies events to get kids involved in donating books, they also run some side programs where, for example, publishers give them books directly and they find a home for them.  They also do some special projects. For example, as I was interviewing her, an office intern was putting together some mini Milk + Bookies boxes to give to a crafts convention in Palm Springs. 

Milk + Bookies also has an excellent website, where you can learn more about the non-profit at milkandbookies.org.  It is designed by a professional website design company, and the music for the video on the website was composed by Oscar-winning composer Michael Jiacchino (who did, among other things, the music in Up.)

She also mentioned that although Milk + Bookies is non-denominational, it is considered a mitzvah, a good deed that kids having a bar or bat mitzvah need to do.  This would count as that good deed. 

In addition to their five member Board of Directors, they have twenty people on an Event Committee, and also have one large annual fundraising ball in April of each year.  They also have four rotating office interns, usually from local colleges; and then there’s Caitlin Young, the newly hired Program Manager. 

Meredith said the Milk +Bookies kits are $30, but are free to schools or teachers.  They will also help find a deserving local recipient for the books donated at each Milk + Bookies event if necessary. 

Milk + Bookies is a national organization with tax-exempt status, and events are continually being hosted across the country.  In the boxes supplied for each event, there are also clear instructions and materials for each event, which can be held at a birthday party, school event, retail stores, book fair event, etc. 

In addition to running Milk + Bookies, Meredith is also an author, and published the lovely book for children of all ages, Sweet Pete in 2011, with illustrations by Kerry Meyer.  The book is now available as an eBook at Amazon.com for $2.99.   I just read the little book and it's adorable.

It’s folks like Meredith, her staff and volunteers that make this world just a little bit better for all of us.  For more information on Milk + Bookies, visit their website milkandbookies.org.  Thank you Meredith, for being such a good friend, neighbor, and inspiration to us all!

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