Natale Cortellessa and Mike Cullen: Book heroes

As a senior environmental specialist, Natale Cortellessa works to maintain environmental compliance on PSE&G job sites within the southern gas region of the state. This includes conducting compliance inspections and making sure PSE&G has the correct permits in place for each company location or job project.

One day during the height of the pandemic, after finishing up a monthly inspection at a PSE&G site in Camden, Natale drove by a table on the side of the road with a huge line of people standing next to it. When she got closer, she noticed it was a table of books.

“I saw a man behind the table, with shrink wrap on his car that read ‘Camden County Public Library,’” said Natale. “I found Tom Martin, founder of the pop-up library, on Facebook that night and asked if he needed any more books.”

And that’s how it all started. First, Natale and her daughters went through their books at home and donated those. Then, Natale asked members of her local Woman’s Civic Club, of which Natale was the vice president, to donate more books. Together with her kids and her woman’s group, Natale created a book drive and donated the books to the pop-up library, now called the Free Book Project.

Soon, Environmental Field Services Consultant Mike Cullen caught wind of the book drives and partnered with Natale to help Tom create 20 more “book arks” to house all the donated books.

Natale describes the book arks as “little wooden structures with a plastic window so you can see the books inside. They have shingles on them and can be decorated or painted however you’d like.”

With the price of lumber, shingles, doorknobs and hinges, one book ark costs about $500 to make. But Mike got permission from PSE&G to gather scrap wood and other materials that otherwise would have been discarded. With these savings, he was able to create 20 books arks for only $500. Together with Tom Martin of the pop-up library, there are now over 100 book arks across the state of New Jersey, with plans to expand across the country.

“I still work with Mike to collect and distribute books to the Free Book Project and the book arks throughout the state every couple of weeks,” Natale said.

PSEG Editorial Team

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