Connecting

Bibliobike Cart
Robert Beck’s craftsmanship stands strong during another summer’s heat.

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.

Blood and the Kindness of Strangers

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Warning: Disc brake rotors are sharp.

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 abuseI’ll also be mindful of the disc rotors.

The Salvation Army

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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.

 

Garnet Ridge

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Garnet Ridge’s Awesome Clubhouse is a collaboration between UGA and the Northeast Georgia Foodbank.

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.

Park Place

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If it wasn’t July in Georgia, the granite boulders scattered around this shaded spot at Park Place Apartments would be ideal places for folks to sit and read. Temperature and humidity likely contributed to last Thursday’s low turnout. (I passed the time with Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, a little summertime science fiction.) Only three kids walked away with books, but I connected with a couple families.

A neighbor told the first visitor that I teach third grade at Chase Street. Her son happens to be a rising third grader who’s been living in another state. She said he’ll visit Athens next week, so I gave her my contact information, as well as our principal’s, so she can arrange a tour. I look forward to meeting him when I return next week. A familiar face at a new school eases some of the stress for a new student.

The first young reader to browse last Thursday will also be a third grader at Chase next year. His dad chose a bilingual (Spanish and English) phrase book, and his son selected one on rocks and minerals so he can preview some third grade science content. They asked if I’d be back next week, so hopefully they’ll spread the word.

Amethyst and Elkview

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Compared to the ride to Kathwood, pedaling to the corner of Amethyst and Elkview was twice as far, much hotter and more uphill. Anticipating said challenges, I brought an insulated bag with freezer packs and frozen washcloths to cool down, and a double insulated water bottle that keeps ice frozen when the heat index surpasses one hundred degrees.

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Situated among a series of duplexes many former students call home, a concrete slab offers a fairly flat parking spot. It took a bit for folks to brave the heat, so at first I worried nobody would show. I was wrong.

Sixteen people visited, including parents and grandparents who selected books for young family members. For his granddaughter, one man chose The Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellers, a graphic novel about archeologist Isabel Soto’s adventures while exploring Colorado’s Cliff Palace ruins. When a curious mom emerged from her home, she walked over and chose a book about animals with vibrant illustrations for her eight week old daughter.

 

Sisters took younger siblings by the hand and helped them choose. While one middle schooler’s little brother browsed, she said, “I was a Tree Frog. I went to Chase from pre-K through fifth grade. It’s a great school.” She asked about former teachers, and we chatted about favorites like Mr. Sugiuchi and Mrs. Dean, who still teach there.

Kids frequently request specific titles and topics. One of the first was from a young reader who I recognized as a writer because she was wearing a Camp Red Clay t-shirt.

“What types of books have you read in the past year?” I asked.

“Some about mental illness. And poetry too.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any books on either topic, so she selected My Name is Celia, a bilingual picture book about Celia Cruz, and a chapter book called The Rescue, about a dog whisperer.

Other kids requested mysteries, Harry Potter, and Roald Dahl. So once home, I searched through bags and boxes of donated books, and found two titles from the Harry Potter series, and Dahl’s The Magic Finger (a personal favorite). For the girl interested in poetry and mental illness, I found Who Was Edgar Allen Poe, and a book of poetry I’ve shared with students over the years called Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. As for mental illness, the DSM 5 might be a rabbit hole too advanced for a fifteen year old. If any of you have suggestions for books about mental illness geared toward children, please let me know.

I’ll return to Amethyst and Elkview next Tuesday at five with a handful of requested books. Hopefully some of the same readers will join me again.

 

Books Bring Out the Best

Charging the Hill on Kathwood Drive
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Summer book deliveries began at four on the first Wednesday of July. Two miles each way, pedal power lugged the bike, trailer, umbrella, two water bottles, a ten by ten tarp (thirty percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms), four bungee cords, and around fifty books split between four panniers and the trailer’s lower storage compartment in an attempt to distribute the weight evenly, while keeping the center of gravity as low as possible. The rig is a hoss.

Once on Prince Avenue, I started pedaling along the sidewalk. That didn’t last long because not all curb cuts are created the same…

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It’s doubtful that the ones in front of the old Navy School can safely accommodate wheelchairs, so forget trying to weave the Bibliobike in and out of them. Where some streets intersect, the cuts spit me out into oncoming traffic. And at the bottom of a steep hill in front of a large granite boulder, the sidewalk ended under three inches of standing water. I’d had enough. So I dismounted and walked the Bibliobike through the puddle, waited for a break in traffic, then crossed the street and joined the flow of cars and trucks barrelling west.

With few vehicles and a mellow downhill grade, Old Jefferson River Road eased some stress after navigating Prince Avenue’s steady stream of traffic. This was the setting of a serendipitous chance encounter with a woman who stuck her arm out of the driver’s side window and flagged me down. The arm belongs to Melaney Smith, who said she’d heard about the Bibliobike and introduced herself as the founder of Books for Keeps, an organization that supplied much of the literature I was hauling. She asked if she could follow me to Kathwood Apartments to take some photos, so Melaney’s car became the lead in an impromptu motorcade escort up and down the hill on Kathwood Drive, and around a couple blind curves on the way to the apartment complex.

Bibliobike Books on Display
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Melaney contributed more than photos. She also helped set everything up, which was the first time the books were arranged and displayed.

First Visitors
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A kind woman named Blanca and her boys were the first visitors. We talked about choosing “good-fit books,” while they searched for just the right one.

Blanca and Son
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You could tell literacy is important to Blanca by the way she helped her family select books, recruited nearby kids, and sat and read with them on a shady bench. She also offered to donate books when I return. Her oldest son chose Tom Angelberger’s Origami Yoda, even though he had never attempted paper folding before (childhood tragedy averted). I used a Bibliobike flyer to show him how to make a perfect square and agreed to bring some proper origami paper with me next week.

Mauricio Reads to Cameron
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Rinne Allen is a photographer of many things beautiful, and a super supportive mother of a former student/old soul/voracious reader. She joined me at Kathwood with her two sons to chat and witness the inaugural Bibliobike visit. As clouds began building in the west, a collective effort to pack everything up began organically. Rinne’s son held the bike while I reconnected the trailer. Nigeria – the Bibliobike superfan of the day who kept coming back to get books for her siblings – and her older brother made sure all the clasps were closed. We double checked the lights to make sure they were on and flashing, and I explained that I like to keep them on what I call “epileptic mode,” to ensure highest visibility once back on the road. In all, fourteen kids came and went between five and seven. Nigeria gently placed the helmet on my head, and I was on my way.

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