Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Area Quakers Assist Katrina-Damaged Library

by Todd Kuzma

Carol Bartles knew that she wanted to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, and she had heard about a library damaged right across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. Over the course of several months, she worked with other members of the Clear Creek Friends Meeting, a Quaker church outside of McNabb, on a plan to assist the library with its recovery efforts. On May 8, Bartles and fellow Clear Creek members Rachel Mershon and Kay Drake arrived in Westwego, Louisiana to put that plan into action.

The Clear Creek Friends Meetinghouse outside of McNabb, Illinois.

Hurricane Katrina created a series of problems for the Westwego Branch Library. The strong winds of the storm caused significant damage to the library’s roof. The building’s interior was relatively unharmed, but that blessing was short-lived. When the supply of water to the building resumed, a check valve in the sprinkler system failed to open, resulting in massive water damage to much of the building. The children’s section was hardest hit, with a loss of approximately 7500 books.

The Westwego Branch Library.

The library is part of the Jefferson Parish Library system. Four of the parish’s sixteen libraries were damaged beyond repair and will not reopen. This means that the Westwego branch will have to serve a much wider area, including the adjoining unincorporated areas of Marreo and Bridge City.

The Clear Creek group planned to help rebuild the library’s children’s section with upgraded furniture and equipment. They also wanted to help draw kids from Marreo and Bridge City to Westwego with a summer reading program. Bartles turned to the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker service organization, for assistance and secured a $5000 grant.

The children's section of the Westwego Branch Library as it looked on May 8, 2006.

Building upon the initial grant, the group contacted other potential donors. The United Way of Illinois Valley provided $2900 to purchase incentives for the summer reading program. The Starved Rock Reading Council gave $300 for the purchase of new books and donated 30 boxes of gently used children’s books for the reading program. Double D Express shipped the books to Westwego at no cost. All of the equipment and furniture suppliers offered substantial discounts.

During their trip to Westwego, Bartles, Mershon, and Drake spoke to approximately 2000 children at nine area elementary schools about the summer reading program. During their presentations, they revealed the incentives that Clear Creek was able to offer the children.

School kids at the Westwego Elementary School awaiting a presentation about the library's summer reading program.

Every child completing the program will receive a transparent backpack with a book. At the end of the summer, all children completing the program will be entered into a drawing. Three winners will each receive a new Schwinn bicycle, specially fitted for them at Bicycle Michael's of New Orleans. Other winners will receive CDs, CD players, and radios.

Lon Dickerson, director of the Jefferson Parish Library System, notes that challenges still lie ahead. Building damage at the Westwego Branch Library is just a small part of an estimated $5 million in damage to libraries across the entire parish. FEMA has committed to only $1 million in assistance so far, and Dickerson has yet to see any of that.

Yet, like many of the recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast, progress is often made one small step at a time. Clear Creek wasn’t able to solve all of the problems facing the Westwego Branch Library, but they helped take a couple of those steps.


Anonymous Max Boughner said...

So how's the library now? I pity the books that were damaged. Losing 7,500 books from the flood is really sad! But you have to admire Carol's dedication to pursue the renovation of this ill-fated library. I hope all is well now, and the kids are enjoying every book that it houses. :)

10:03 AM  

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