On Sunday March 2nd, fourteen adults, eight children, and two teens participated in a service trip to Cradles to Crayons, located in Brighton. After signing in at the warehouse we gathered together with other groups who were volunteering that afternoon, for an orientation session. They serve children from the ages of newborn to twelve who are living in homeless shelters or low-income situations. The children receive the things they need to thrive – at home, at school and at play. Requests are received from social workers for a particular child. Then volunteers fulfill this need by putting together, in large, clear plastic bags, hand-selected items, such as a seasonal coat, clothing for a week, shoes, books, developmental toys and new school supplies. These are given out free of charge to each child. The items Cradles to Crayons gives out are in new or gently used condition, as they believe that “quality equals dignity” and only the best will do. It is a matter of respect and dignity, for a child in need to open up his package and find clothes and shoes he or she is proud to wear and books and toys that are almost new.
Next, we were divided into two groups. One group worked sorting and cleaning shoes, the other group worked with children’s books. Those nine individuals who were in the “shoe group” had the job of deciding which shoes were up to Cradles to Crayons standard. About three shoes were rejected for each one accepted. (Rejected shoes are given to other charities who will accept them.) Once that was determined, they needed to be cleaned with bottles of Simple Green and toothbrushes, along with lots of scrubbing. Survivors were then rubber banded together and labeled with the size. Finding those labels wasn’t an easy job, either. Though probably the most difficult job there, the leader reminded the volunteers that saving shoes is the most important job, as shoes are essential and every child asks for a pair of shoes. Ruthie, Claire and Mark worked diligently to save every possible pair of shoes. By the end of the two-hour work shift, 140 pairs of shoes were cleaned and ready to be shelved.
The “book group” was faced with several large bins of donated books. Again the standards are high. We had to reject books that had torn binding, written on pages, books on religion, holidays, or about a particular family member, as these facts aren’t known about our recipients. (Again, these rejected books are given to other organizations). Once we determined which were worthy of saving, they needed to be sorted into bins labeled by developmental age. Board books are especially needed. It was extremely helpful to have so many children of various ages working with the adults, as they were the ones who knew best what reading level was right for a particular book. Tim was our expert on young adult fiction. Then three to five or six books (depending on age level) were rubber banded together and put in bins labeled by age and gender. This caused some interesting discussions about gender discrimination, why can’t a girl read a book on trucks, why can’t a boy have a butterfly book? Ethan wanted to know why they separate the books by gender. He was also concerned about how appropriate a violent themed book is for a pre-schooler? Jacob was concerned about the kids who don’t speak English, since most of the books are written in English. Adults had fun reminiscing over our favorite books from our, or our children’s childhood. The children worked well with the adults and were highly engaged in the process. By the end of our shift we had made up 156 book packs.
These are some of the reflections from participants:
“Great and meaningful trip!”
“Thoughtful and engaged children.”
“So much useful work was accomplished”
“I had a delightful time sorting books with my son.”
“Meaningful, powerful and joyous.”
“Mom, thank you for bringing me here!”
Special thanks to Ellie G. for organizing the pre-trip pizza luncheon and all the logistics involved in such a trip. We are grateful to be able to give of ourselves to such a worthy organization. Mix children and adults working along side one another for a common cause, with thought provoking questions, add lots of laughs, and you have the recipe for a Sunday afternoon well spent. Join us next time, and see for yourself!