The Green Spot and MCC environmental club Down to Earth gear up to celebrate Earth Week

Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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A faint smell of old books drifts out the door of a corner room tucked away in the Woodstock Square Mall.

Inside, thousands of used books are arranged neatly by topic, date released and whether they appeal to adults or children on shelves lining the walls. They've been painstakingly put there by volunteers. Countless hours spent sorting.

And they've come from people throughout the community looking to discard old books and keep them out of the landfills. In doing so, those who donate have kept the non-profit Environmental Defenders of McHenry County alive. 

As the group and other environmental organizations through the area celebrate Earth Day this Monday, with some commemorating an Earth Week, efforts like those at the book store and elsewhere are garnering attention.

Yet, throughout the year, their efforts often go unnoticed. 

"We're kind of a hidden gem," said Pam Johnson, a volunteer for the Defenders who helps organize the used book store, called The Green Spot, at 110 S. Johnson St., Suite 104, in Woodstock.

When it comes to the store, Johnson knows her stuff. Any and every topic you're interested in, she can hunt down a book about it.

And she's often one of the first to sort through boxes of donations, snatching up those she likes.

"You have no idea how many books I've bought. It's a blessing and a curse," she said with a laugh.

The Defenders first  opened The Green Spot several years ago in a smaller location in Woodstock. The group moved its office to its current location across the hall from the book store, mainly to make room for more books.  A continually rotating supply of books, gift items and DVDs are available at the shop for low prices.

Paperbacks typically go for $1 a piece, while hard backs can range from $3 to $5.

"Our prices," you can't beat 'em," said Christy Matsuoka, administrative coordinator for the Defenders.

Along with the used book sale, the group works throughout the year to raise awareness of environmental issues, host recycling drives and protect natural areas, water resources and open spaces.

The used book store actually grew out of countless questions by residents about where to discard their old books, Matsuoka said. It since has become one of the few remaining used books stores, with only a couple others still operating in the McHenry County area. 

"We realized that there was not really a nearby outlet in Woodstock," she said.

Though new technology, such as Nooks and other mobile e-readers and tablets, are growing in popularity, she and other volunteers say interest in books will remain, at least in their lifetimes.

"People who like books will always like books," Johnson said. 

Along with accepting book donations, volunteers make the rounds to area libraries looking for books leftover from various sales. And every mid to late September, the shop hosts a larger book sale at Algonquin Township, as well as larger sales in a downstairs area in the Woodstock Square Mall.

"It's an always changing selection, and we're not putting junk out," Matsuoka said.

She and the store's roughly 20 volunteers enjoy having first dibs at the books, with Matsuoka often heading for the used DVDs, she said as she looked over the latest selection.

"There are some good ones in here," she said.

"We're our own best customers."

A growing interest

Like the Defenders, 20-year-old Zak Klehr sometimes finds the biggest challenge facing environmentalists is spreading the word. 

As president of the Down to Earth environmental club at McHenry County College, Klehr has worked to draw interest in the club and its activities. In his second year at the college, he said he's seen the club grow, increasing to about seven members on and off this year.

Members have worked with numerous environmental organizations and their initiatives throughout the area, including clearing invasive plant species and other efforts.

The group is hosting Earth Day activities this week on campus, and members will plant trees as part of the McHenry County Conservation District's "Planting for Tomorrow" program at Coral Woods in Marengo.

"Hopefully, years from now, you can go back and see your hard work growing there and making the place more beautiful," Klehr said of the effort.

Klehr always has been interested in the environment and plans to study environmental science at a four-year university after MCC. 

Though he sees the need for technology, he fears too much of it can cause you to lose your "connection to nature," he said. 

That's why he's worked so hard to spread the word about the club and other environmental efforts.

"I know it's busy and everything. I understand that, but there are times it seems like it's 'go, go, go,' " said Klehr, of Huntley. "I would wish that more students would notice and understand what's going on." 

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