Kids Need Books is sidelined until the COVID-19 crisis abates. In the meantime, here’s a story from last summer.
The noon sun bakes the church grounds in Lynden. Leaves on the cottonwood trees are motionless in the still air. Although the outdoor food bank will not open for another hour, there already are fifty migrant worker families carrying cardboard boxes, forming a long, snaking queue next to the parking lot. A woman at the front, like many others, holds a sleeping infant in one arm with her other kids trailing behind her. These young families have an average of five children.
It’s the Agape Project’s (https://agapeserviceproject.blogspot.com/) first food distribution for the summer and Kids Need Books has partnered with them to hand out books. During the two-month fruit harvest season the migrant families live in spartan camps nearby where kids lack access to playgrounds and parks and libraries. KNB books and school supplies often provide the primary source of entertainment and education for these children.
My neighbor Diane, who speaks fluent Spanish, helps me set up three long tables, covering them with books for children and teens. We spread out 16 bins of novels on the ground.
Soon the food bank opens and a dozen dark-eyed Latino kids come to the book table quietly eyeing our selection of reading and school supplies. Diane explains in Spanish that everyone may select a coloring/activity book, box of crayons, a notebook, pencil, and five books. A chorus of excited voices—a mixture of Spanish and English—fills the air.
A four-year-old boy studies the coloring books with the seriousness of an old professor. He holds a Superman book in one hand and The Lion King in the other as if testing the weight of each. He narrows his choices down to three and finally elects to go with The Avengers.
Three teenaged girls look through our selection of young adult novels. The oldest selects John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. The other two girls pick Jesse Andrews Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. Clearly, all three of them are earnest readers. They smile shyly, thank us, and walk away proudly holding their prized possessions.
Diane shows four young Latina mothers a selection of board books for their toddlers. Written in both English and Spanish, the books have bright colors and wonderful illustrations. The women all seem to be talking at once in rapid-fire Spanish as they eagerly investigate their choices. Moments later each mom has a bag bulging with new books. “Gracias” is said again and again, like a mantra—a blessing—as they head to the food bank line.
More and more kids come to the book tables. I help the youngest ones find coloring and activity books that interest them, but my selection of more than 100-plus libros para colorear y crayones soon disappears. And I promise some very disappointed children that I will be back next week with more. We don’t run out of books, though, as I have over a thousand of them with me.
Two hours later the frenetic activity has slowed. Diane and I take down tables and pack up what books we have left. We are tired, thirsty, and sunbaked, but feel grateful to have helped out more than 200 families. And we will be back next week…
Kids Need Books runs on donations and is part of the non-profit Interfaith Coalition. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation.