Our Stories

Well Read: Bookstore Cafe Volunteer Kimberly Chou

Well Read: Bookstore Cafe Volunteer Kimberly Chou

Photo: Philip Montgomery

With apologies to Tennessee Williams, Housing Works depends on the kindness of volunteers. These are no strangers; they are dedicated community members devoting their own time in our fight to end AIDS and homelessness. Their importance cannot be overstated–this is especially true in our Social Enterprise Businesses. With over 200 in number, the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe is practically powered by its volunteers. Their duties run the gamut: from sorting books to processing online orders, to assisting customers, working at events, and making delicious lattes.

We recently chatted with Bookstore Cafe volunteer Kimberly Chou about her experience, what she does when she’s not volunteering and, of course, her recent favorite read.

Housing Works: Tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from and what brought you to NYC?
Kimberly Chou: I was born and raised and went to school outside of Detroit. I moved to New York for an internship after college, cobbled together a succession of freelance gigs and sublets that eventually turned more permanent — and now here I am.

HW: What do you do when not volunteering for Housing Works? In other words, what’s your day job?
KC: I help produce Food Book Fair, an annual festival celebrating the intersection of food culture and food systems, and the writing that brings it all to life. Over a long weekend, we have food scientists, chefs, authors, activists, academics, artists and more participating in panel discussions on contemporary food issues and ideas, a pop-up bookstore, film screenings, and signature events like this year’s Food Book Slam, where writers shared excerpts of their new books, in front of a jury audience. We describe it as like The Moth — and it’s hosted by our friends, and Housing Works’ friends, the fine folks from DISH!

HW: How long have you been a Housing Works volunteer?
KC: I have been a Housing Works volunteer since 2012, starting at the SoHo thrift shop and moving on to front of the bookstore, events at the bookstore and now in the cafe in the back. I’ve sorted donations and dressed mannequins, rallied Buy The Bag warehouse shoppers during a heat wave, picked-and-packed books and made lattes. I think at least half of my bookshelf and half of my wardrobe is from Housing Works. More often then not, someone asks me what I’m wearing and multiple items are from SoHo Thrift!

HW: What compelled you to volunteer with Housing Works?
KC: I started as a customer and wanted to more actively support the mission.

HW: As a volunteer, what is your area of focus?
KC: I cafe in the cafe.

HW: What’s your favorite bookstore event?
KC: The Moth, hands down.

HW: What’s the best book you’ve read in the past 6 months?
KC: “Anagrams,” by Lorrie Moore. I liked it so much I bought a second copy to give to a friend — found, of course, at Housing Works.

Housing Works is always looking for capable, passionate volunteers. Learn more and sign up here.

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