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For the past 27 years, Lori Patterson’s professional life has revolved around finding the perfect book to spark a student’s interest in reading. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the librarian at James F. Doughty School in Bangor said she had to figure out a way to fill what she saw as a huge void in the lives of students and families.
“With libraries being closed and schools being closed, all teachers, all librarians, we were all wondering, ‘How would our kids have access to books?’” Patterson said.
Here’s how: Patterson turned her garage into a book storage facility, solicited book donations from her Fairmount neighborhood friends, and created a delivery operation — “Books for Bangor Students” — that would supply bookworms from K-12 with plenty of reading material.
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The operation doesn’t resemble a library as much as it does a well-curated, for-keeps bookmobile: The students aren’t expected to return the books. Ever.
Patterson asks for input from parents and other teachers on the kinds of books a particular student might like, and logs that information on a spreadsheet before packaging up a bag of books for delivery. Fans of Clifford the Big Red Dog can expect to receive books about their favorite canine. Hardy Boys mystery-lovers will get to follow the adventures of Frank and Joe. Some donors have passed along more weighty tomes, which appeal to advanced students and their parents.
Then, Patterson or one of 10 volunteering colleagues will deliver a bag — usually 10 to 15 books — to a family’s doorstep.
In the month she’s been delivering the books, she has delivered more than 1,000 titles, and has purchased shelving units to help her organize the books that fill most of her garage.
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Patterson said she didn’t expect the project to generate as much support as it has.
“I just decided to put it out on my neighborhood Facebook group — it’s called Fairmount Neighbors — and the books came in droves,” she said. “People just kept dropping off books. Bags and boxes of books, which was just remarkable.”
The effort received an immediate jumpstart from Literacy Volunteers, which gave Patterson the first eight bags of books.
Patterson handles the books carefully, and said she follows guidelines set by Maine health officials for all curbside pickup businesses. When book donations show up on her doorstep, they’re labeled with a date, then taken to the back of the garage, where they’ll sit for a week before being handled.
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She opened an account at Damon’s Beverage and Redemption in Bangor so supporters could donate their returnable cans and bottles to the cause. And she received another hand from Gibran Graham, who owns The Briar Patch, a bookstore in downtown Bangor.
Customers at his store choose to round up the total cost of their own book purchase to support the project, and can donate as much as they’d like. They’re also able to buy gift certificates, which enable Patterson to fill specific book requests from students.
Graham said that he has worked with Bangor and other school districts over the years, and thought it was important to continue to find ways to supply students with books while school is not in session.
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“We really were looking for how we could help. We were able to maintain being operational as a retail store through phone orders and online orders through curbside pickup and shipping,” Graham said. “It just became something that we realized that we had a role that we could play to support the community in this way. Literacy is essential.”
During times like this, immersing oneself in a good book is a great way to relax, Patterson said.
“What better way to spend time? Kids have so much time on their hands. In many cases we all do,” Patterson said. “So [why not] get people reading through this?”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Share your Up Beat stories with him.
Watch: What will it take for COVID-19 to go away?