Sometimes I want to want to volunteer. Despite my best efforts to be altruistic and charitable, I would often just rather be reading a book at home or watching Netflix and eating cookies. Sometimes I’m just tired, right? All this preamble is so that you will take me seriously when I say that cleaning books at The Children’s Book Bank is actually really fun. And when you throw in a few friends and their kids, it feels like a play date.
In the welcome email for volunteers, the Book Bank warned us that parking would be tricky. When we arrived a zealous forty minutes early with snacks and books for the wait, their parking lot was basically empty and I felt slightly ridiculous. Ten minutes later, though, it was completely full, and I felt so smart and savvy. You can gauge your own level of comfort with the parking-spot hunt, but street parking in the neighborhood is challenging. Carpooling is a great idea, as is taking public transit (the Portland Streetcar and TriMet buses 6, 17 & 77 are nearby).
Despite being in a windowless warehouse, The Children’s Book Bank has a cozy, bookshop feel. There are shelves lining the walls, with forward-facing titles in English, Spanish and more. It is an absolutely inviting space, and my children were as enthusiastic about being there as they are about the library or Powell’s. Like much of Portland, it lacks A/C, but it was totally comfortable when we were there.
The volunteer session began with a kid-friendly introduction about where the books go and why. We were thrilled to learn that The Children’s Book Bank delivers little green bags with fourteen books each (fourteen!) to pass out in Head Start preschools. It was really meaningful to think of a little four-year-old walking home with fourteen books in her very own bag, full of poetry and fiction and nonfiction. For older children, The Children’s Book Bank holds free book fairs, where students browse and choose their own books. Even the books that don’t meet the Book Bank’s high quality standard find a home in free library boxes or community doctors’ offices in the neighborhoods they serve.
After the introduction, we put every hand (even the tiniest) to work. We learned how to clean and repair books, we checked every single page for marks or tears, and we sorted the newly resurrected books into their correct bins. My children and their friends took their work very seriously, asking what to do about pink stains on endpaper (glue the last page down to cover it) or a teacher’s name in marker on the cover (magic eraser to the rescue). The staff member working with us had that special gift of talking to children with respect, asking the oldest child in our group could he help her with these chapter books, telling the youngest that he asked such good questions, and praising all of them for the quality of their work. I, for one, was astounded by how hard the children were working. With two kindergarteners, a second-grader and a third-grader, I expected a few wiggles at least, but they worked diligently, cleaning the books with reverence, sitting tall and feeling very grown-up. We all chatted while we worked, and it had the feel of a quilting circle (I imagine) and absolutely did not feel like work. My son said he was going to be sad to leave when it was over, and everyone agreed that the time flew.
We closed with a mini-tour of the book bank and everyone shared something they learned. I learned I love this place like Christmas, but I said something more discreet, like I discovered a new children’s book or the kids did such a good job.
To sign up for a regularly scheduled time slot, you can find The Children’s Book Bank on HandsOnPortland.org. Their volunteer opportunities are good for kids 6 and up.
If those times don’t work for you or you want a more kid-oriented volunteer slot, you may schedule your own small group of volunteers at www.childrensbookbank.org. There is a minimum group size of 6-10 volunteers, ages 6+ with one adult for every three children, but the space can handle up to 30 if you happen to have lots of friends. Volunteer sessions with children are only one and a half hours, which I found to be just right. Honestly, I found everything about this volunteer opportunity just right.
Find a few fellow bibliophiles and reserve a spot. You will help get high quality books to kids who really need them and have fun doing it. And you can still watch Netflix and eat cookies later.
Meg Asby is a mom of two in SW Portland and loves nothing better than a cartful of books from Central Library. Check out what her family is reading at Booked.
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