Wash. Dry. Read. Repeat.
That’s the new cycle at the Clean X-Press Coin Laundry, where a crowd of children, parents, and community leaders gathered Monday to kick start Literacy at the Laundromat.
“I got Sleeping Beauty,” said Monica Calin, age seven.
“I got Star Wars, the Clone Wars,” said 9-year-old Duilio Cardona.
As soon as Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and other community members cut the gold ribbon wrapped tightly around the shiny red bookcase, a handful of kids swarmed the shelves grabbing titles they’d never seen before and pointing to familiar books.
“I picked this book because my favorite show is ‘Star Wars, the Clone Wars,’” said Cardona, a third grade student at Bayview Elementary School in Richmond.
Literacy at the Laundromat is a partnership between West County Reads, Richmond College Prep Schools, and the Richmond Community Foundation Education Action Team to promote reading for children.
The program’s aim is to put books in the hands of children; the “Take One, Leave One” bookshelves will be placed in Iron Triangle neighborhoods at locations where parents and children gather.
“I have this business for six years, many kids coming everyday almost 30 to 40 kids. They stay with mom for two, three, sometimes four hours with nothing to do,” said Esther Chan, who co-owns the Clean X-Press Coin Laundry on MacDonald Avenue, with her husband, Myung Kook Chan.
“It lets kids read something. There’s nothing kids can do here,” Chan said as she waved her hands toward the room full of washing machines. “There’s only two TV’s in here; it doesn’t help them.”
The “Take One, Leave One” bookshelf program will deliver about 250 new and used books to bright red bookcases in eight different locations, including the Richmond Health Center, Nevin Community Center, and the Richmond Performing Arts Center.
Some of the books were purchased through the Scholastic reading book company with funding provided by the Richmond Community Foundation.
Kevin Hufferd, chair of West County Reads, recognized the demand for books after looking at kids in the Iron Triangle neighborhoods.
According to Hufferd, in some neighborhoods fewer than 10 percent of third grade kids can read at their grade level.
“There’s a number of places, it’s very sad, that kids are not really getting the chance and the opportunity to get the resources they need to be able to read,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to combat. We know there’s a need because we’re seeing that kids are not really able to achieve that which all kids should be able to do.”
Joann Davis, President and CEO of Richmond Community Foundation, said her community action team and the parent group with Richmond College Prep Schools would monitor the bookshelves.
“They replace books, they replenish the shelves when new books are dropped off, they bring with them labels, and place them on the books,” Davis said.
The labels say “Take It, Leave It,” reminding parents to bring the book back and take another one. “It’s all on the honor system,” Hufferd said. “We know that a lot of these books may not come back and that’s alright. It may mean that child really liked that book and wanted to hang on to it. That’s fine with us.”
Next to each bookshelf is a drop-off box where people can also donate books to help fill the shelves of future bookcases. Davis said the group is distributing book donation boxes reading “West County Reads Book Drive” at ten or twelve businesses around the city. There is currently a drop-off box at the Starbucks in Point Richmond and one in the Mayor’s office.
Nine-year-old Ajanai Hughes held the 2011 Almanac in her hands as she approached the bookcase. She planned to donate a new book in exchange for one she hasn’t read yet.
“I’m excited this bookshelf is here,” Hughes said. “It means I don’t have to sit in the chairs and watch everybody wash their clothes while I do nothing.”