It’s late Wednesday afternoon and I am at a large low-income apartment complex with Kids Need Books (KNB). Usually I hand out books here in tandem with the school district’s Food LifeLine project, a kind of nourishment-for the-body-and-mind joint operation, but this week is spring break and there will be no food distribution. Just books. I’m taking a bit of a chance—have never flown solo here—and don’t know if folks will venture out for books, especially in the cold, driving rain that has suddenly moved in from the ocean.
As I unload bins of reading material from my car, I am greeted by Dee, one of the activity managers for the apartments. She is surprised to see me. Somehow she did not receive my email from this morning alerting her to my plan for today. Dee tells we she will send out a “Door Knock,” a group email to families who participate in the weekly food distribution, to let residents know that KNB will be operating this evening. I’m a bit skeptical whether this will work, but I figure that if I connect one person with a good book today, the effort will have been worth it.
I set up three tables next to the washers and dryers in the complex’s tiny laundry room, my usual spot to hand out books. It’s a tight spot. I can only admit one fully-masked family at a time and must prop open the door to provide good ventilation.
Rain lashes the laundry room windows as I set out the usual array of reading material: board books (for infants and toddlers), picture books, emerging reader materials, beginning chapter books, middle grade readers, and young adult novels. When I finish, books cover the tops of the washers and dryers and every inch of table space.
A moment later a young mom and her seven-year-old daughter slip into the room. They adjust their face masks and begin slowly perusing the books.
“Hi, Katrina,” I say to the young girl. “Are you still reading “The American Girl?”
She nods and her blue eyes brighten.
“Kat finished the books you gave her last time in three days,” her mom says. “She was really excited when we found out you would be here today.”
“Well, it’s my pleasure.” I reach into a bin beneath a table and pull a stack of six American Girl books. “Katrina, have you read any of these?” I hand her the books.
She looks through the books. “These are all new ones for me. I can’t decide which one to choose.”
“They’re a series, so I think it’s best if you take all of them.”
Katrina looks at her mom who nods her approval. “It’s okay, Kat. You can have all of them.”
“Oh, boy!” Kat exclaims as she clutches the books close to her heart. “My best friend Mary is coming to our apartment for a sleepover tonight and we’re going to read all night long. It will be the best time ever!”
“Thank you.” Kat’s mom touches my arm. “You’ve made one little girl very happy today.”
I smile from behind my mask and hold my hand to my heart.
As Kat and her mom exit, a Latino mother and father and their three young boys (from three to seven years of age) enter the tiny laundry room.
“Hola,” I say.
“Hey, it’s good to see you,” the father responds. “My crew is fired up to get some books.”
I hand each of the boys a plastic bag and they immediately begin investigating the super hero books.
“Yay, it’s Spiderman!” The oldest boy exclaims behind his mask as he selects a pair of level one readers.
“I got a PJ Mask!” The middle brother brags.
Soon the trio of boys have bags bulging with books.
“Gracias,” the boys’ mom says. “Is it okay if they hug you?”
“I never turn down hugs,” I say.
The little boys wrap their arms around my legs, their heads reaching my knees and, once again, my heart is full.
Over the next hour and a half I hand out more than two hundred books to a diverse population of families—Somalis, Latinos, Russians, Pakistani, and others. Things slow down and I begin to put books back in bins and prepare to load them into my car when a middle-aged woman pokes her head into the laundry room.
“Oh, it looks like you’re closing up, so I’ll catch you next time.”
“I’m in no hurry. Please come on in.” I wave her inside. “What kinds of books are you looking for?”
“Nothing for me really,” she mumbles shyly. “But there’s a baby shower for my niece tomorrow and I don’t have a gift. Don’t have any money for a gift, so I was going to skip the shower. When I heard your were here I kinda wondered if I might get a book.” The woman stares at the floor.
“You’ve come to the perfect place for a baby shower gift. I’ve got a great selection of wonderful baby books.”I point to a table of colorful board books. “Shall we pick out a few?”
The woman nods and I see her smile behind her mask. Moments later she has a bag with five new board books including three classics like “Goodnight Moon” and a pair of cuddly animal books.
“These are the best shower gifts. I can’t wait to go to the party tomorrow,” the woman says. “I can’t thank you enough.”
“These books are donated from generous folks across Whatcom County. I will thank them for you.”
I watch the woman disappear into the dark night. The rain lashes the windows of the laundry room. It sounds like music.