The early morning ride to the West Broad Farmers Market Juneteenth celebration wasn’t bad. Traffic was light, and the temperature hovered around seventy degrees. As volunteers, farmers, artists, bakers and others prepared, Travis, the Community Agriculture Director, set me up with a tent next to the MEU Radio booth. According to the organization’s website, “MEU (Music, Education, Uplift) Radio – Athens is here to entertain, inform and motivate the youth of Athens, GA. Our goal is to help free them from the stranglehold of poverty by pouring messages into the community that will ignite the light to a path of positive and prosperous living.”
While curious readers from all walks of life stopped to share stories and choose books, the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement’s Mokah-Jasmine Johnson performed a few songs of empowerment. Next came Athens’ own hip hop artists L.G. and BlackNerdNinja, followed by local poet Synergistic Sierra, who shared a few poems with musical accompaniment.
Twenty-eight books were given away, and community connections were formed. From social justice activists working to end poverty, to locavores promoting sustainable farming practices (and now literacy), the West Broad Farmers Market is a good fit for the Bibliobike, which will return on most Saturdays throughout the summer.
Explore Joshua L. Jones’ photos of the the celebration for the Athens Banner-Herald here.
Bibliobike deliveries inevitably cross paths with other folks working to improve the community. Read on to meet two.
Like The Salvation Army, the Summer Food Service Program in the Garnet Ridge neighborhood was cut short due to low numbers. The day it ended, Tracey Massey stepped in to continue delivering lunches to the kids who arrive religiously around noon each day. Tracey is the adult and child nutrition coordinator for the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia. Each weekday morning she drives to the Food Bank and puts together nutritious sack lunches, then delivers them to the kids in Garnet Ridge. Since she has taken over, the menu varies a bit compared to food distributed at the beginning of summer. Tracey says she follows the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines when selecting items. The kids get excited about what’s in the sack, and Tracey says, “Each time is like opening a stocking.” I’ll see her and the kids again tomorrow.
On a humid Friday at Broad Acres (rain on Thursday), a man with a camera approaches the rig while I pack up. With a smile, he says he’s been meaning to catch me during one of the deliveries. Danny Davenport introduces himself as the Athens Housing Authority property manager for Rocksprings and Broad Acres. We talk at length about how to engage young residents in community building at home and school. He tells me that he’s interested in growing fruits and vegetables. A handful of well-intended blueberry bushes he planted were “ripped up,” so I recommend asking residents what they would like to plant, and invite them to take part in the process. (It’s all about agency.) Danny tells me about a new partnership with the Athens-Clarke County Community Tree Council, which will plant more trees in the neighborhood. He snaps a photo and hands me his card. Trees, fruits, vegetables and literacy? I think to myself as I pedal past. We’ll stay in touch.
In addition to learning about the human condition when I meet people during visits around the community, I also discover things about bikes. Sometimes the hard way.
Last Monday’s delivery to The Salvation Army was a bloody one. Delayed a bit due to rain, the regular crew was already there waiting for dinner outside the cafeteria when I rolled up. Just after I unscrewed the pins near the rear hub and unhooked the bike from the trailer (one of the first logistical tasks), I noticed that a kid squeezing and sucking the last drops from a juice box was getting fruit punch all over the cart, books and somehow, me. Or so I thought.
Turns out I managed to slice the tip of my ring finger on a disc break rotor and smear blood on just about everything I touched. I held a washcloth against it to stem the flow and the concerned kids quickly took up organizing books on the shelves. Five minutes later, a kind Tolkien fan named Jenny emerged from the building wielding Band-Aids, which she wrapped around my finger with great care.
The rest of the evening went well. I chatted at length with a number of folks, including a homeless man named Will, who, like me, has fond and not-so-fond memories of South Georgia and North Florida. Nine people walked away with books, and I made it back before the darkening sky opened up. Tonight I’ll return to the Salvation Army with requests for Judy Blume, The Hobbit, and a copy of David Pelzer’s A Child Called “It,” a harrowing story about abuse. I’ll also be mindful of the disc rotors.
The day I met Tracy, the site manager for Summer Food Service distribution at The Salvation Army, the program was shuttered due to low turnout. I happened to catch Tracy and three other women walking out of the cafeteria on that last day (June fifth), so I delivered the usual elevator pitch. She explained why lunches would no longer be served, then invited me to bring books around dinnertime.
“On any given night, between six to eight families stay here. We serve dinner from five to six, and people start showing up around four.”
“I’ll see you next Monday.”
Drenched in sweat, I pulled into the parking lot behind the cafeteria a little before four. A woman poked her head out of the door and gave me a curious look. I introduced myself, explained the strange rig, then set everything up.
Initially, mostly men walked up and situated themselves on the concrete benches. Most knew each other, and a few asked about the Bibliobike. Many mentioned how much they looked forward to showering after dinner.
During the next hour, moms, dads and kids joined us as the group swelled to around forty. I gave away thirteen books in all – many to adults planning to pass them along to young family members. A man with a long grey braid named Mike chose a book about dinosaurs for a nephew which sparked a conversation about places to find fossils in Georgia. Another man selected two books for a grandson in Chicago. Some moms sent their children over on their own to select books. Others chatted while helping their kids choose. From illness to prison stints, snippets of conversations throughout the evening revealed a range of struggles rooted in poverty.
One of last summer’s Bibliobike stops was on a concrete slab at the corner of Amethyst and Elkview situated in a Latino community of fifty or so duplexes. A former student and long time resident named Carlos said, “You should set up at La Escuelita.” This summer I will.
A collaboration between UGA and the Northeast Georgia Foodbank converted the duplex into a small after school center for residents of the Garnet Ridge community in 2014. When I visited the building last summer, I must have missed the hour-long window when lunches are served because it was vacant. This summer’s timing is much better.
I call the number on the Summer Food Service Program flyer for “more information.” A kind woman gives me specific delivery times and site manager names for locations around town. Garnet Ridge deliveries are scheduled from noon to one, so I drive over (rather than tow the cart in case nobody’s there) and meet Latasha. After my Bibliobike spiel, she says, “You’ll help us, and we’ll help you.” She says turnout has been low, and if the number of kids on a given day continues to drop below twelve, the site will be shut down. Hopefully free books will incentivize more kids to come out when the Bibliobike returns.
For more information about the history of The Awesome Clubhouse @ La Escuelita, click here.
The first time I load up and make the trek to Rocksprings Homes, I’m a week early (ugh). I park the Bibliobike outside the community center then talk with the receptionist inside and hand her a flyer. She explains that lunches are primarily distributed to kids who attend summer camp, and “the manager is out of the office.”
“What’s her name?”
“Thanks – I’ll see you next week.”
Summer camp starts the following Monday, and men delivering lunches pull the van up to the curb right when I arrive. Perfect timing. The receptionist finishes up a phone call with Marci, who’s picking up a few last minute items. When she arrives, I ask, “Are you Marci?”
“Can I help you unload?”
“Hold the cart steady.”
While she unloads everything, once again, I explain what I’m doing. She likes the idea and invites me to set up inside (where there’s air conditioning). The kids finish up their lunches while I coordinate with the camp counselors. Each one has a mix of around seven elementary and middle school age kids for the day, and the groups rotate through to choose books. Within a twenty minute whirlwind, forty-two kids select books.
Deliveries to the Rocksprings Community Center are unlike any other because there are simply so many kids. After just two deliveries so far, fifty-seven books have been given away.
Click here to learn more about the history of public housing in Athens.
Just after pulling into Broadacres Homes around eleven thirty, a former student with a great big smile walking with a friend calls-out, “Hey Mr. Brooks!” I ask where lunches are distributed during the summer.
“Down the hill at The Rec.”
A familiar face is a good sign on the summer’s first delivery.
A white Athens Housing Authority van pulls up to the community center, then two men unload large plastic bins and carry them inside. The containers are filled with lunches Athens residents can pick up between noon and one.
A handful of folks peer out of their windows and doors as the Bibliobike gets set up. Two women walking toward the community center are the first to ask what this is all about. After browsing, both choose Dr. Seuss books for grand-kids. Next, a first grader leading her lunch-coated baby brother by the hand emerges from the building and heads toward the rig. They immediately snatch two books with Elmo on the cover. Another first grader points to the large face on the cover of a Nelson Mandela biography and asks her great-aunt, “Who’s that?”
Yes, she wants the Mandela book, I think to myself.
“You’ll learn about him in time. Get something you know about,” the woman responds sternly.
The curious reader chooses Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Green Eggs and Ham.