Children’s Book Bank – Week 6

Z Family and Pastor’s Family

Where I Went:
The Children’s Book Bank in Northeast Portland is primarily a volunteer run organization focused on providing all children with books to own. Their website gives a comprehensive explanation to their approach, but here is a snippet they’ve written to describe why they exist:

We believe children need to be surrounded by books at home. The Children’s Book Bank doesn’t give away a book here and a book there. Instead, each child we serve receives a bag full of a variety of books to experience and enjoy including a mix of concept books, picture books, story books, and books about the world around us. 

Logging on to Hands On Greater Portland’s website, I created a team. By formally having “Team Z Family”, I can sign my whole clan up for an event with one click of the mouse. The Children’s Book Bank (CBB) was accepting volunteers ages 6 and up, making it a perfect “girls night out” for my darling daughters and me.

First Impressions:
Since the inception of this project, I’ve looked forward to volunteering with my children. The pastor’s wife from our awesome new church and her two PK’s (preacher’s kids) registered their own “team” through Hands On and joined us.
The job description informed that we’d be cleaning books to give to low-income families, but I wasn’t really sure what that meant. As much as I adore the novels in my bookcase, I’ve never done more than a light dusting.
We navigated to the Children’s Book Bank easily. The directions stated there would be plenty of parking outside the building, alleviating my fear of finding a spot downtown at night. The directions also expressed that there isn’t a bathroom on site.  Having a bladder the size of a 5 year old, this is what I chose to worry about.
Locating the double doors with a small “Book Bank” sign in the window, the girls and I climbed a few steps into the entry. Children’s books surrounded us; in bins, on the tables, lining the walls – this “bibliovore” found paradise! Two rows of tables and chairs occupied the center of the room. When Pastor’s Family arrived, we grabbed six spots together and waited for instructions.
A book lover’s heaven
The coordinator for the evening presented herself as Robin. After telling a bit about herself, she asked the 12 volunteers to introduce themselves and share a favorite children’s book.  Okay – I needed more parameters. Did she want to know my favorite picture book, young adult novel, or piece in an easy reader series? Did she want to know the books that I’ve internalized and have become part of my soul? Should I share a selection from the laugh out loud characters of Mo Willems, Jon Scieszka, or Judy Schachner? What about the provoking, every-kid-needs-to-read, Giver or StarGirl?  Finding the answer to this question could possibly take me all night. I settled on sharing Shel Silverstein’s “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” as my favorite. If you’ve never read it, do so. Then it can become part of your inner being, as well.
Meet Robin
In addition to Z family and Pastor’s Family, a man in his early 20’s sat at our table. “Hello, my name is Earl,” he started. I never heard his favorite book because I immediately I wondered, “Whatever happened to that show?”
My Name Is Earl works at a local bookstore and wants to be a children’s book writer. Not surprisingly, he loves to help at the book bank. The second table began their introductions and we heard from young children, college students, and adults. I appreciate community benefiting opportunities that can accommodate a variety of ages.
Robin explained that volunteers are the workforce of CBB. As entry level workers, those in attendance that night were responsible for cleaning and prepping the books for ownership. Trained volunteers come at other times to sort the books by level and category, and volunteer drivers deliver the books to the recipient schools.
Sorting stations
The Job:
Robin delegated our task: donated books needed cleaning until they looked as new as possible. The books would then be given to children from low income families. She shocked us with this statistic: a child in a middle class household owns an average of 13 books. For those living in poverty, the average is 1 book owned per 300 kids. My kids dropped their jaws in surprise, knowing that they each own way more than 13 books.
Head Start Preschool children are the recipients of the lower level books, each child receiving an individual backpack with 16 books of varying categories. Each pack contains: 

“You’ll notice we only give two Disney books to each child,”  Robin pointed out. I gasped. Couldn’t she see my passion for all-things-Disney just by looking at me? Did I need to show her my Mickey tattoo?
She further explained, “We want to show kids that there is more literature out there than just Disney.”
I am still coming to grips with this concept.
Each child receives 16 books in one backpack
Books appropriate for 2nd graders and older are distributed at the schools in “book fair” fashion. CBB sets up tables of books at Title 1 schools in the Portland area. Students can glance through the books and take any that they want to call their very own.
Finishing our orientation, Robin sent us to work. Each of us was given a washcloth, a few bottles of Mrs. Meyer’s organic cleaner were on the table, along with a tub of “fixing” supplies. 
Pencil marks needed erasing. Ink on the outer cover disappeared with rubbing alcohol. Thin tape mended page tears and thick tape held together a damaged spine. Names on the inside cover hid under white mailing labels and lengthily inscriptions were covered with brown contact paper. Sticky substances like decals or library barcodes received a douse of Goo Gone and a swipe of the putty knife. The finishing touch was a light wipe with the cloth and cleaner, making the cover shiny and almost new. Periodically, we’d find a book still readable, but too stained to give as a “gift”. These CBB discards become new reading material for the Children’s Community Health Clinic.
Older PK and youngest Z getting things done
Youngest PK giving the book a final wipedown
As we cleaned, I peppered Robin with questions about her background. A native New Yorker, she studied to be a librarian in Madison, WI then moved to start a career in Portland. Rather than finding a library job, she followed a call to work at the book bank as their Operations Manager, one of 2 paid staff positions. (The other being the owner.) 
She continued to tell me more about CBB. The small room that houses the books and work space is donated – hence, no bathroom. Also, because of the room size, there are a limited number of volunteers that can be accommodated. Groups ranging in size from 6-12 people are asked to call in advance for a time to help. For individuals that want to participate, they use the scheduling services of Hands On Portland. 
Working steadily, my kids and the PKs were chatting about birthday parties and sleepovers. I loved how conscientious they were each time they picked up a different book, all while entertaining each other socially. 
I asked my kids and Pastor’s Family for feedback about the evening. Both the PKs and my youngest said the same thing: “We liked cleaning books and knowing that they are going to children who don’t have any.”
My eldest declared, “I liked seeing all of the books people donated and scraping the stickers off with the putty knife.”
Eldest Z’s favorite donated book. No, she didn’t take it with her.
Pastor’s Wife’s response proved more profound. “The best/toughest part for me was realizing how few books children of low income families have. I think of the huge amount of books my children have, many that we have never even read. Books have always been a source of pleasure and escape, transporting me into another world. For a child not to have that luxury breaks my heart.”
Pastor’s Wife is a Disney fan, too!
My favorite part about volunteering at CBB was the sense of contributing toward the literacy of young Portland. Everyone working that evening shared the same passion in reaching that goal, and a few of us swapped stories about the importance of books in our own lives. 
In each of my previous volunteer activities, I’ve been exhausted at completion; either physically, mentally, or both. The book bank experience exhilarated me. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to clean more, to chat more, to watch my children work for the good of others. 2 hours was not enough time, and I plan return soon.
My kids demonstrated that 2 hours on a school night was plenty – especially after arriving home an hour past bedtime. I would take them to clean books again in a heartbeat. Only next time, we’ll choose an afternoon shift.
While helping at Children’s Book Bank, I observed my kids caring for every book, knowing it would soon go to an appreciative owner, I realized that not only do I strive to obtain the nature of a servant for myself, but I want to give my daughters more opportunities to expand their hearts with compassion as well.


  1. says

    it's so fun to see us in your blog! You are SUCH an awesome writer. Yes, the kids were tired the next day but it was so totally worth it I love that we are giving our kids a chance to serve. And you are such an awesome role model for your kiddos; actually SHOWING them that serving is important!

  2. says

    Well, of course YOU are an awesome role model as well. I'm sure we will have many more activities like this. Thanks for the comment – one more diaper for NW Children's Outreach. 🙂

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