Libraries often serve as a hub of community connection, and that’s even truer in small towns. When the Newport library closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, library director Mandy Walters worried about the impact on kids.
“People really depend on our services here,” Walters said. “We were so fortunate that the Friends of the Pend Oreille County Library District stepped up.”
The group created take-it and make-it craft kits by the hundreds and placed them out front of the library along with hundreds of books available free to anyone who wanted them. The donated books meant people had something to read, and the staff didn’t have to worry about checkouts and returns.
“While our efforts could not take the place of a fully functioning library, we worked hard to fulfill the mission we share with the district: opportunities for lifelong learning, supporting curiosity, literacy and STEAM experiences,” said Kat Schutte, president of the Friends of the Pend Oreille County Library District. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math disciplines.
The kits went quickly. Kids weren’t in school at the time, and parents were thankful for any educational opportunities.
The Friends group met virtually, and during a Zoom meeting, Schutte noticed quilt squares in the background of a member’s home.
“That was my aha moment,” she recalled. “I realized that everyone on the executive team is passionate about both literacy and quilting.”
She wondered if they could pool their talents and raise funds to get books into the hands of children.
“When I proposed we combine scraps and create quilts for a virtual auction, it was met with enthusiasm,” Schutte said. “We reached out to the community for other quilters, and the COVID Cabin Fever Collaborative Quilt Project was born.”
The Friends group partnered with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library project. Funds raised during the silent auction through Nov. 3 will go to purchase books for children from birth to age 5 in the 99156 ZIP code.
Each month, Parton’s Imagination Library will send every registered child a new book in the mail. The first book all kids receive is “The Little Engine That Could,” a favorite of Parton’s.
There are 340 children in 99156, and 23 of them are registered for the Imagination Library project. Schutte and Walters hope the virtual silent auction will help spread the word so that more parents will register their children to receive a free book each month.
The Friend’s group, along with community volunteers, has created nine quilts of various sizes, two throw pillows, a table runner and four kit bags for the auction. Additionally, five vintage quilts and five groups of vintage quilt blocks have been donated.
Funds generated will support the local Dolly Parton project as well as the community garden, and will help provide supplies for the Summer Reading Program and other library programs.
“We’ve already raised $3,000 just by asking folks in the community to help,” Schutte said. “If enough money is raised, we’d like to expand the program.”
She hopes the colorful quilts will inspire spirited bidding. Many of them feature Pend Oreille County-inspired themes. “Diamond Lake Cabins in Winter,” “Boundary Mountains Cabins” and “Smackout Pass” are just a few of the offered quilts.
“We’re excited to give a boost up to every child we can reach while encouraging the use of the library to their older siblings and parents,” Schutte said.
Walters said the library plans to launch the “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten” program, and the partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library will offer an added boost to the program.
“Kids who come to story time can register at the library,” she said. “Reading to children translates into success later – it gives them access to words they’re not going to hear in everyday life. Getting books in children’s hands has huge ramifications.”
Cindy Hval can be reached at email@example.com.
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