Ask Ron Hass what his favorite book is and he can't just name one, he starts naming a long list.
"I just believe in reading," he said.
The Santa Rosa man credits his aunt with sparking the love of a well-crafted tale that has given him a lifetime of pleasure. It was natural that once he retired, he sought ways to share that feeling.
Hass, 67, volunteers with the Free Bookmobile of Sonoma County, picking up donations from around the county and spending several hours a month sorting and cataloging them at the nonprofit's Occidental headquarters.
The bookmobile, founded in 2009 by Glen Weaver as a weekend public service project with his family, has grown into a bustling book giveaway program that has distributed more than 70,000 free books to anyone who wants one — or three, the per-person limit.
Many customers are children, others senior citizens. Most are lower-income, but anyone is welcome to use the service, Weaver said.
"When you see them come off the Bookmobile with smiles, it's just great," Hass said of young readers.
Weaver, the only employee of the growing program, called Hass' dedication invaluable.
Hass picks up donations several times a month from throughout the county. He arrives in Occidental and sorts them into racks of bankers' boxes organized by category inside a large storage container.
The custom-designed, waterproof container has a capacity of about 12,000 books.
A "database guy" in his working life, Hass is helping fine-tune the sorting system. He examines incoming books and classifies them into one of 35 groups, including those for "immediate placement" into the bookmobile — books in high demand.
"How to Go to College Almost for Free" made the cut, as did a hardback Patricia Cornwell mystery.
"Anything current or newer, things people are talking about, like politics," Hass said. "There's a category for every human experience. That's part of the fun of it."
Excess books or multiples of the same title are given to other nonprofits.
"Having somebody like Ron is incredibly helpful because he doesn't only know books, he makes sure that the best stuff comes forward," Weaver said.
Since young readers are a primary target, picture books, "early reader books" and young adult fiction are always in demand. The mobile also stocks Spanish-language books for all ages.
"A lot of bookmobile users are disenfranchised," Weaver said. "They aren't near a library or don't have access to books."
Hass said delving into a stack of new donations is an adventure &#8211; one he is eager to share with other admirers of the written word.
"Every box is a new discovery," he said. "I get a tremendous amount of pleasure from it."
(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)