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Big Red Bookshelves need restocking

Mattaya Green picks out a book from the Big Red Bookshelf in the Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative office. (Photo submitted)

Last week, as she was visiting the Community Action Duluth tax site, Jodi Broadwell stumbled upon a simple scene. While sitting next to the Big Red Bookshelf in the CAD waiting area, a father was reading a picture book to his toddler to pass the time.

"It was really sweet. That's why I do what I do," Broadwell said. "That's why getting books into kids' hands is so important."

Broadwell has been the caretaker for the two Big Red Bookshelves in the former Lincoln Park Middle School for the past five years. The building started out with one bookshelf, "but our books fly off the shelves so fast, we had to get a second one," Broadwell said.

The Big Red Bookshelf Project places bright bookshelves stocked with gently-used or new books, appropriate for children from infants to third-graders, in the community where families with young children visit. The program was started by the United Way of Greater Duluth in March 2009 with six shelves placed around the Duluth community. Today there are 18 bookshelves hosted by the Duluth Children's Museum in locations such as the CHUM family shelter, Duluth Grill, Safe Haven Shelter, Duluth YMCA and St. Luke's Pediatrics.

However, after taking over the the Big Red Bookshelf from United Way of Greater Duluth, its book supply has greatly reduced, museum education director Drew Jensen said.

"I think people might not have been aware of the change. We just want to let everyone know the program still exists and still needs donations to keep our great sites full of books," Jensen said.

Jensen says a majority of donations come from people cleaning out their closets and donating books their children or grandchildren have outgrown. A lot of donations also come from school and business book drives. If anyone is interested in hosting a book drive, Jensen has a kit to aid them.

Broadwell's organization, the Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative, just completed a book drive at Barnes and Noble.

"Now our shelves are full for a while, which is great. This should last us a two or three months," Broadwell said.

Broadwell estimates her shelves go through about 200 to 300 books in a month. Many of the books are cycled back through the library when families are done with them. The most popular books are the tough baby board books.

"We can never get enough of them," Broadwell said. "One minute they're there, the next, they're gone."

About once a month, Broadwell visits the museum to stock up on books. When she returns to the bookshelves, kids are sometimes waiting to see her.

"There's nothing cooler than being surrounded by five or six kids who are excited to dig through the boxes and pick out books," Broadwell said.

Broadwell's dedication to the program comes from previous experience. She was a literacy tutor and the first member of the Minnesota Reading Corps to be placed in Duluth in 2006.

"When I was in the corps, we'd always say, kids learn to read up until third grade. Then after third grade, they have to read to learn," Broadwell said. "It's important to generate a love for reading by then because if they don't read well, school is going to be really hard for them."

To donate, bring books to the museum at 115 S. 29th Ave. W. in Duluth on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Books can be dropped at the welcome desk of the museum.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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