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.
Logically, turnout last year was sporadic when the temperature hovered in the upper nineties or higher. Some days, two sweaty kids braved the heat for books. On milder afternoons, many more walked away with summer reads. So the haunting question throughout this year has been how to give away more books.
When homeroom teachers around Clarke County were given the Summer Food Service Program flyers to send home before school let out, the issue of low turnout during Bibliobike deliveries was potentially solved. The plan is to arrive when lunches are being distributed. Before or after kids and families get their meals, they will also be able to grab some books.
I toured the Broadacres, Rocksprings and Lay Park neighborhoods on May fifth to get a feel for resident density and find routes that minimize the number of hills. I snapped some photos, and if the ones above are any indication of the need for books in these communities, it’s going to be a successful summer.
Linda Schroeder is an integral part of the Oconee Area Resource Council, a 501 (C) (3) non-profit providing food for families in need year-round, in addition to offering mentoring services to K-12 students throughout Oconee County. In Linda’s words, “We are one full time and two half time staffers. We have a good number of volunteers and a supportive board, and that’s how we are able to get a lot done.”
Linda’s serendipitous email last week couldn’t have been more timely, as the process of organizing this summer’s books had just begun. She offered to donate a large collection of used children’s books already sorted by by age, which will save a significant amount of energy when it’s time to load up the Bibliobike in a few weeks. It took two trips to transport the collection, which now occupies a considerable amount of space at the house.
Many thanks to Linda for reaching out, and to everyone working to help folks in need. When we commit to the well-being of others, it’s curious how quickly compassion spreads.