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Neighbors help restock blessing booth after nearly everything’s taken

Tori LaDeane, left, and her husband, Jesse LaDeane, stand with their blessing booth in their yard at 39th Street between H Street and I Street in Vancouver, Tuesday April 17, 2018. (Ariane Kunze / Columbian)
Tori LaDeane, left, and her husband, Jesse LaDeane, stand with their blessing booth in their yard at 39th Street between H Street and I Street in Vancouver, Tuesday April 17, 2018. (Ariane Kunze / Columbian)
By Adam Littman Columbian

Tori LaDeane returned from work Monday and opened the phone booth on her front lawn to see if there were any new items in her family’s blessing booth.

She checks the booth multiple times each day, and loves to see what items her neighbors have taken from the booth and added to it. On Monday, the booth was close to empty. LaDeane, 39, was devastated, spending the next hour or so crying to her family and neighbors.

“I was quite upset,” she said. “This has been our heart the last four months.”

LaDeane and her husband, Jesse LaDeane, 44, put the booth outside their house on East 31st Street between H and I streets in January to act as a free library. People can stop by and take a book or some of the other items inside, such as toiletries, snacks, water and clothes. Most people tend to swap out items.

Jesse LaDeane was at home when a couple nearly emptied out the booth. He heard the dogs barking more than normal, so he looked outside and saw a woman walking to her car with a few books. It didn’t seem like anything unusual.

After suffering a few thefts in the past – Christmas decorations, a car, law gnomes – the couple put up security cameras outside about two years ago. They looked at the footage and saw a car pull up at 3:48 p.m. Monday, and a couple who looked like they were in their mid- to late 20s made multiple trips to the booth, taking out stacks of books.

“It’s quite disheartening,” Jesse LaDeane said. “They were all used books. They’re not worth anything. They can sell them for maybe $5. If they wanted $5, we would’ve just given them the $5.”

Tori LaDeane put a message on Facebook about what happened to their booth. A few people said since they didn’t put a limit on items that can be taken, the couple did nothing wrong. Most others were sympathetic. Around 6 p.m., neighbors started refilling the booth. By Tuesday afternoon, the booth was healthily stocked once again.

A sign was added to the booth Tuesday, asking people to limit themselves to two items, and another new sign reads, “Smile. You’re on camera.”

“These people, they hurt our community,” Jesse LaDeane said. “We’re all very close in this neighborhood. People walk by the booth daily. They bring their kids to swap out books. That’s why this hurts so much.”

People said since they have the couple on video, they should go to the police. The LaDeanes don’t have any interest in that.

“There was no crime committed,” Tori LaDeane said. “It was a moral crime, not a legal one.”

LaDeane was appreciative that her neighbors came to help so quickly. She’s been dreaming about putting up the blessing booth for six years, since she saw the old phone booth outside the Chevron station near 39th Street in Vancouver. She could never work up the courage to ask the owner for it, so she had her husband do it. He asked the owners if they could take the booth on Christmas Eve, they said yes and the day after Christmas, the LaDeanes brought the booth home in the snow. They power washed it, painted the inside and added a door. They put about a dozen books inside and let their neighbors know about it via Facebook.

Since they opened the blessing booth in January, neighbors have made it part of their daily walks, swapping out books and talking about how it brings together the neighborhood.

The LaDeane family noticed a few homeless people stopping by, so they decided to put water, snacks and toiletries in the booth to help out. The visitors have been appreciative, Tori LaDeane said, and while they might not have much to swap out, she did see one man take an item and leave a bottle cap.

“It’s my favorite thing,” she said. “I love my little booth.”

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