HOBOKEN, NJ - With classrooms and libraries at that point shuttered for more than three months, and few signs of an imminent reopening, a group of local women came together in Summer 2020 to discuss ways to keep children reading.
From there, Leah Mermelstein recalled, the idea to bring Little Free Libraries to Hoboken was born.
On Tuesday, Mermelstein was joined by her daughter Ariana, 8, and nearly two dozen other mothers, children, and local officials to cut a ribbon on what now stands as a second opportunity for Hoboken youth to find and share books for free.
Well before the formalities started outside the Hoboken Housing Authority Building at 211 Jackson Street, a car pulled up and out jumped Anthony, 8, who quickly ran to the brightly colored box to find a book from his favorite series: Captain Underpants.
While Anthony likes it when Captain Underpants fights the Bionic Booger Boy his mother, Eileen Masson, is just happy he’s reading.
"It’s good for his mind,” she said of reading, lamenting that between virtual school and video games too much time is spent on front of screens. “They listen, but they don’t pay attention.”
As Anthony continued reading, two other volunteers, Marah Oberfeld and Sarah Cohen, made their way over, both celebrating the excitement the initiative was generating.
Oberfeld said the goal is to “elevate the literary experience” in Hoboken, something they hope will happen when residents use the book exchange to trade works they’ve enjoyed reading. “We want people to share their favorites, not books they didn’t enjoy.”
For Caleb Galvani, 8, there is joy in giving his books away. “I like having kids read, and I love reading.”
When it came to the books, Caleb’s choice on Tuesday was The New Dogman, a selection he proudly showed off, and read part of, to Grayson, 6.
While Caleb was the artist responsible for most of the images painted on the library, except for the unicorn which he credited to his friend, Alessandra, it was siblings Ori and Ava Pinn that did the construction, with the help of DIY Joint.
“It gave me something fun to do, and made me feel great,” Ava said of the summer project, her brother adding that it helped quell the boredom of an otherwise “uneventful summer.”
It was exactly the excitement Anthony, Caleb, and Grayson, as well as Ori and Ava, all showed that organizers want to spread Hoboken.
“We hope the mailboxes become daily resources for residents in our community,” Mermelstein said, sharing a vision of caregivers grabbing books to read in a park, or a child bringing home a new book to enjoy.
Exhibiting his own excitement, perhaps at the prospect of switching away from the budget documents, redevelopment plans, and draft ordinances that take up much of his reading list, was Mayor Ravi Bhalla.
“This is a convenient way to explore,” Bhalla said, noting the selections include everything from The Cat in the Hat to a book on civil rights.
For Councilwoman Emily Jabbour, the initiative has been a success because it has already brought the community together. “We have united for a common mission,” something that doesn’t always happen in a city where politics can be divisive, she said.
Crediting the more traditional bricks and mortar library that sits just blocks away for doing a “great job” with outreach, Jabbour said the new boxes, a second has been constructed in Church Square Park and a third is planned for Columbus Park, bring a “different curb appeal” to reading.
"We hope it will inspire others to start their own mailboxes,” Mermelstein concluded. “It’s truly exciting to see so many people invested in our literacy mission.”
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