February 13, 2012; Source: MLive.com | Once upon a time in our society, many people rued the advances of big chain bookstores such as Waldenbooks (gone), Brentano’s (gone), and Barnes & Noble driving out neighborhood bookstores. Now that most of these bookstores, like many small neighborhood shops, have gone out of business, we now look back on the presence of even those chains as a golden era.

Remember Borders? It went under in the middle of 2011, leaving many people longing for its quiet reading tables, free wifi, Seattle’s Best Coffee, and a staff willing to do nearly anything to get people the books they wanted. It is not hard to imagine the staff of Borders creating a charity to help their peers who might be having financial difficulties (job losses, medical problems, etc.).  Originally independent of Borders, the Borders Group Foundation was capitalized by employees’ workplace contributions which, through 2007, were matched by the company. Since its founding in 1966, the foundation has distributed about $5 million in assistance and reportedly has $4 million in assets.

With Borders no longer functioning—and, we suspect, other bookstores facing precarious conditions—the Borders Group Foundation has reinvested itself as the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BInC) with a new mission to “improve the lives of book industry employees throughout the country.” The executive director of the renamed foundation, Pamela French, said that the “camaraderie among bookstore employees…should help the foundation continue its work.”

This foundation may not be of the size to capture much attention nationally, but it represents a community of interest and commitment that stands up for its peers. According to the foundation’s website, “In spite of all the unrest in 2011, the Foundation was able to assist 127 associates and their families for a total of more than $166,000. Serious medical emergencies continued to be the highest percentage of the grants, with eviction prevention and loss of family income rounding out the top three qualifying events. We were able to help 6 families keep the heat and lights on with our utility assistance program and the Foundation prevented 17 families from losing their homes.” For those families, this is truly meaningful charity and philanthropy. It deserves all of our respect. –Rick Cohen