A fundraising event that has for the past four years brought the community together for the sake of our public library system is valiantly going forward, in spite of lockdowns, pandemics, and any number of odd things that 2020 has thrown our way. This community’s commitment to its library system is symbolized by the fact that the Madison County Library System was named Library Journal’s 2018 Best Small Library in America, in spite of the realities of having a working library system in a rural area such as this. In the little town of Hot Springs itself, the Library has suffered housing challenges and the threat of being shut down. The story of how the local residents prevented this, which included this very fundraiser continuing, is a testament to what a community in solidarity can accomplish. Mary Dixon, co-creator of the fundraiser and Secretary of the Friends of Hot Springs Library for the past 9th years was kind enough to answer some questions about the library generally and this fundraiser in particular.

1. What is the purpose of the event? We began the BBQ for Books event in 2017 as a fundraiser hosted by myself and my husband Pete on our farm, Broadwing Farm, in Hot Springs to benefit the Friends of Hot Springs Library New Building Fund. The Hot Springs Library had for many years been housed in various buildings in or near downtown Hot Springs, with the last being the old Forest Service Building on Bridge Street. The building was by then privately owned and Madison County was paying rent for the library to be there. When the lease expired, the owners decided they did not want to sell or renew, so the Friends took it upon themselves to find a new, permanent space for the Hot Springs Library.

We found the perfect spot, right on Bridge Street in Hot Springs. It was an easy walking distance from the Post Office, the hardware store, the bank (although the bank is now gone), and directly on the Appalachian Trail. The Friends of Hot Springs Library (FHSL) made the decision to buy the building. With Madison County Commissioners agreeing to pay the monthly rent payment, we set off on our fundraising journey to pay down the debt, with all donations going directly to paying down the principal. We have received both small and large donations from individuals, community organizations, local businesses, and county organizations. Some of our community members, organizations and businesses have given multiple donations over the last 3 years.

Our loan is a 5 year loan, with the payoff scheduled for October of 2021. The building was sold to us for $265,000. We now have the loan down to just under $90,000 and are working hard to get it paid off by next October. When the debt is paid, we plan to donate the building to Madison County and have a free and clear, permanent home for the Hot Springs Library.

2. Where did the idea originate, or with whom? The idea for a community party/BBQ was Pete’s. FHSL had been working really hard at fundraising within our small, Hot Springs community. Everyone was really stepping up – individuals, local businesses, family and friends from across the county, community organizations. But Pete really wanted to, what he said, “Put the ‘Fun’ into our Fundraising”, so he planned a community BBQ and Music event. Over the past three years, we have received donations of meat and beverages from some of our wonderful local meat producers and breweries, a local friend who makes a kickass BBQ pork shoulder has donated, prepared and served us over the years, our Hot Springs Friendship Club has provided and served up side dishes of coleslaw, collards greens, mac n cheese, and cornbread, and we have been entertained by some great local musicians. We have a suggested donation at the door of $25 per person. We’ve consistently made about $5,000 from this event the past three years.

3. In regards to fundraisers, there's always the question of how much a fundraiser manages to bring in v. what it costs to run it. What are your thoughts about that? We have an amazingly generous community! It is a huge trick to pull off a fundraiser and not lose all your profits in the cost of running the fundraiser. We have been so fortunate to get almost all of what we serve for this event through donations. The food is all donated, the beverages including beer, wine, and cider have all been donated from local breweries in Marshall and Asheville. Individual members of FHSL have donated specifically toward paying some of the musicians for the event. Some of our music is performed by FHSL members! So, all money taken at the door has benefited the Friends of Hot Springs Library New Building Fund. In early 2019, FHSL made a budget item to pay for some of the food and paper product items needed for the event. We also applied for and received a Madison County TDA grant that helped with some of those costs, so we have continued to be able to pass all event proceeds to the FHSL New Building Fund.

4. This year, of course, is peculiar because it will all be online. How do you see that playing out in regards to how much money is raised v. other years? We hope, of course, to raise more funds this year as we reach further out from our own community. But who knows. Because we need more specialized technical help to run a live stream event this year, it appears it may cost slightly more than buying food items and paper products. However, we have an amazing dream team of organizers within FHSL who are donating both time and funds toward our 2020 event, and luckily a good few of them have both musical and tech prowess! We are all very dedicated to giving all proceeds from the BBQ for Books fundraiser toward the FHSL New Building Fund.

5. What is the structure of the online event? We are planning a combination of live and pre-recorded music, along with both live and pre-recorded content from FHSL members, including our New Building story and how to join FHSL. We will hear from our Madison County Public Libraries director, Kim Bellofatto, and a mix of library history and past/future events from our emcee Meghan Engel.

Our live music will be performed by Pierce Edens, 75 Single Wide and Sun and Moon Dance. We have an ever growing list of pre-recorded music from Josh Goforth, Tim Campbell (who is recording at Azule!), Miles Perry, The Three Little Birds, Mark Blumling, and Miss Cindy and the Knockin’ Boots (who has performed at our event in 2018 and 2019). We are going to promote participating local businesses and restaurants where, on the night of the event, folks will be able to pick up specially made BBQ menu items to enjoy while watching the show.

Although the event idea began as a “telethon” much like the old school telethons with phone banks, we will not be taking donations over the phone, but will have our easy to find “Donate” button on our livestream. Folks will be able to donate online by paypal or credit card through a secure payment platform. We will also have Donation Stations at all participating local businesses and restaurants where folks can donate by cash or check. And we are always happy to get a check in the mail. We will be livestreaming on YouTube and Facebook Live (although we have just found out that Facebook Live may not be allowing folks to livesteam non approved musical content after October 1st because of copyright issues.)
  • Donate during the Event by PayPal or Credit Card on Facebook Live or YouTube
  • Donate By Cash or Check at One of Our Donation Stations at Participating Local Businesses or Restaurants Where You can Purchase a BBQ Take Home Special to Enjoy As You Watch the Show!
  • Donate Anytime at www.FriendsOfHotSpringsLibrary.Org - Or mail us a check Make your check out to FHSL and mail to: P.O. Box 175 Hot Springs, NC 28743
6. Are there future events planned? We also host a fundraising event every spring called Birds for Books. This event actually originated from Pete before the BBQ for Books. Birds for Books is a birdathon/birdcount held every year on the last Saturday of April. We ask folks to pledge either .25, .50, .75 or $1.00 per bird species seen or heard on that Saturday. This event partners our local youth, outdoor enthusiasts and the library for a fundraiser plus a yearly bird count for Madison County. In 2019, this event partnered with the newly established Madison Natural Heritage Program, a digital natural history project run through the Madison Public Library System. We plan to host an in person BBQ for Books in 2021, whether it will include an online live presence remains to be seen.

7. Why did it seem important to go through with the fundraiser during COVID time, when so many other events have been postponed worldwide? If you have never visited the Hot Springs Library, it’s worth a trip. It is such an important part of both the Hot Springs and Appalachian Trail communities. There was a minute, a few years ago, when we thought we might lose our Hot Springs branch of the Madison County Libraries. We’ve come a long way since then. Madison County Public Library System was named Library Journal’s 2018 Best Small Library in America! Our Friends volunteers from all 3 branches, our supportive county government and our generous community have had a lot to do with that.

Why this event during these crazy times, you ask?...We are so close to getting the building paid for and really didn’t want to lose momentum. We were able to pull off the Birds for Books in April during early times of COVID. We made less $, but still made some and were able to get our 2020 bird count. Again, we have THE MOST GENEROUS community, and we are so thankful. The Laurel Community Center is allowing us to use their building for our livestream production on October 10th. Our planning meetings, which usually take place at the Iron Horse Station, have been in outdoor locations at Springbrook Cottages and in Broadwing Farm’s new event barn. Keeping everyone safe and healthy during this is our priority, it just takes a little more forethought and a different kind of logistical plan, but so far so good. The saying goes, sometimes you have to bend so you don’t break. We’re bending the BBQ for Books 2020 into an amazing LiveStream Event. Join us!! – www.FriendsOfHotSpringsLibrary.Org