2000 Libros

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To end book deserts for migrant children separated from their families, 2000 Libros was created in 2018. Founded in July by Washington, D.C. residents Elizabeth Ballou, a former part-time writer for Bustle Digital Group, and Kristin Stadum, 2,000 Libros' "mission is to provide books to immigrant children who have been separated from their families and placed in centers across the U.S.," according to its Facebook page. The charity is working in conjunction with D.C. Books to Prisons, a similar organization that collects books for incarcerated people and prison libraries.

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TRANSCRIPT

Molly Ness

So, I'm thrilled today to be joined by Kristen Stadum of 2000 Libros who is the co-founder of this organization. Thank you so much for joining me today and for the work that you do on behalf of book deserts.

 

Kristin Stadum

Thank you.

 

Molly Ness

So, why don't you start off by just telling us about your organization? Who are you? What population are you serving? And what is the work that you're currently doing?

 

Kristin Stadum

2000 Libros is a project- campaign started in July of 2018 to address the issue of families being separated at the border. I currently volunteer with DC Books to Prisons- I send books to prisoners and a young woman, a recent college graduate, young writer reached out to our organization to see if we can help her send some books into shelters. She wanted to do it, but she didn’t find anyone else who was serving that need, so I agreed immediately. And I think three days later, we met and watched the program on the 4th of July as people were celebrating independence, we wanted to help bring a little freedom to these little children who were being held without their families in shelters across the country. We started on July 4th. We put up a wish list on Amazon. We reached out to local bookstores started collecting books, reached out to local Spanish- speaking populations because we wanted books in Spanish and bilingual Spanish- English. In order to get kids, the books that they actually could read because these kids don't speak any English or if they do it's pretty basic, and many of them have very high experience in terms of life experience, very low reading levels very little education, so we're trying to find books that are accessible and interesting and … for this audience. We started with the separation of families at the border and that's how we got our name, 2000 Libros. They were at that time- the news had reported about 2,000 children being held in shelters across the U.S. We soon discovered that it was more like 13,000 children between the unaccompanied minors and the children being separated- the border separation policy did end- I think there's some separation still happening, but for the most part, they're still just hordes of unaccompanied minor children being held in U.S. shelters under the Department of Health & Human Services so, we continue supporting that need.

 

Molly Ness

So, I'm sure our listeners have seen local news reports about what's going on in the- some of these shelters in the borders that people are being denied food and water and basic hygiene, so obviously this population needs so much support, so many services. Why books? Why is this your focus?

 

Kristin Stadum

That's a great question. Books are important to me. I'm a financial analyst by day, but I believe that books change lives. I read books to children at domestic violence shelters, I send books to prisons. When this opportunity came up, I jumped on it- to be able to help this population. Yeah I really just think books change lives and these children have had so little access to books and for them these books are not just the chance to escape back into their culture or their language and we really do try to find books by Latinx authors, but we also have Spanish translations of Roald Dahl and familiar classics. I personally collect Alice in Wonderland when I travel and I have it in many different languages, so I bought dozens of copies in Spanish to donate because the book means something to me. So, I’m sharing a little bit of my history with kids. For these kids, these books are a chance to escape into another world or back into their own world or into their own language or some of the kids just love to have- every kid loves to have someone read to them, every adult wants to have someone read to them a good book with a story. And a chance to actually own something because they have nothing, so it becomes a prized possession for them.

 

Molly Ness

So, talk to me about the logistics a little bit more. Where are your books coming from? Are you actually going down there? How is the operation working? And I'm sure it's changing day by day based on the numbers and the needs and such.

 

Kristin Stadum

It really is. And I want to go back a second to the news that people are seeing- it’s the shelters that ICE and border protection shelters are the ones that most people see in the news and we're not sending books into those facilities because those kids are only supposed to be there- I think 48 Hours, but the kids go into the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Health and Human Services and these shelters are normally run by nonprofits and the kids can stay there- I think the average right now for kids who are taken into a family or who are reconnected with their own families is about 45 days. For the kids who haven't made it into a home with a family member, I think they've been in the facility- I think the average at this point is a couple of months and with recent changes to policy if there's a possibility of leaving the children even longer. So, we send into those shelters where these kids are living and learning and having recreational activities, but finances have been cut for education and legal defense and recreation. So, I just want to lay the groundwork. We talk to each other so we have a list of about 25 or 27 different shelters at this point that we work with including one large organization that has shelters in Arizona and New Mexico, no, Texas, Arizona, and California so, they had many shelters under them and they had 1500 children and then people buy books for us through Amazon through…. local bookstore or they send us books directly to us and we'll send them an address for shipping. We don't have a post office box. Everything is coming to my tiny apartment on Capitol Hill. And we package the books and try to match the age and reading level- literacy levels to books we have on hand and we'll send the box off to a shelter with whom we’ve already established a relationship to make sure that the books can get in from years of working with prisons- I know that certain shelters have some restrictions and there's some juvenile delinquency shelters and there's some shelters with smaller children, some with more families, and recently, we adopted a new shelter that has young migrant mothers and so, I needed to go out and find books on caring for infants because these are 15 year old 16 year old girls who are having babies and so, I contacted the local organization that had donated some children's books and asked them if they had any information on breastfeeding because that's what they do and I've talked- we talked to publishers. We can buy books at reduced rates from publishers including some small…in Texas that focus on bilingual books and these books are written and translated into English from Spanish and some of them are side by side so they have the Spanish on one side and the English on the next which helps with learning and a lot of these kids like the bilingual books and bilingual magazine So we've sent them because it makes them feel like they are learning you know- improving their English. You know people send us books, people send us money, we buy books if we have enough money, we repack everything and send it off to the shelters as soon as we can because it’s all in the living room of my 672 square foot apartment.

 

Molly Ness

So, when you say the we, who is involved with this work? Are you supported by volunteers? Who's helping with this?

 

Kristin Stadum

Really it started with a journalist, Elizabeth who is a beautiful human being. She had this idea and she and I worked together to launch this. In about a month-and-a-half later, she left to go to grad school and my then-boyfriend became my fiancé- I think doing this work through…. we worked closely together, and he and I do the bulk of the work. There are some volunteers from DC Book to Prisons and one of our volunteers coordinated a large donation from Highlights Magazine and another one from National Geographic and Nat Geo Kids Magazine which are very popular, and he is the one who runs and picks up the books. I think we have 400 workbooks from the American Psychological Association dealing with anxiety and depression in Spanish that was sent to the shelters. He'll pick these things up and he logs some of them and I log a lot of them in and I'm the one who talks to everyone. And we went to the American Library Association conference and I talked to every publisher I can find- just trying to secure donations and support- not necessarily just donations. I would buy books out of my own pocket if I can buy enough books for all of these kids and I have bought a lot of them, but we're trying to avoid that but yeah, he and I work closely together.

 

Molly Ness

And you're pounding the pavement in every capacity at conferences, in your own neighborhood, and hooking up with literacy organizations.

 

Kristin Stadum

I was at a homeowner's board meeting- a training for the homeowner’s board. We have a management company and afterwards I was talking to the owner of the management company just thanking her for delivering the training and somehow- I don't even know how this came up, so I'm seeking a donation from them and she offered some storage space, so I don't know at this point if we want the storage space just because it's far from the apartment and days are long. So, when I get home, I log books and we pack books and it's easy when it's sitting in the living room and you have no space. You have to pack books. We don't want to get books and store them. We want to pack books and ship them back out.

 

Molly Ness

So, you're a little over a year into this. What have you learned along the way? And what would you- what advice or what wisdom would you give to other people who are doing similar work- maybe in a similar population or even different?

 

Kristin Stadum

I think- don’t wait until you have all of the plans now down to do this. We started this in three days and I have had experience working with non-profits and I knew that we could find a fiscal sponsor so that we can have nonprofit status with a sponsor so we work in coordination with DC Books to Prisons under the Washington East Center under  the umbrella of a nonprofit status so that publishers make donations, we can write them off in their taxes. And individuals can as well. We didn't have all of that sorted out, but I had faith in myself and confidence in others. If you build it they will come, which is from a great book which became…, but we're still building this plane as we fly it and its still evolving and I think it's a moment that we have 400 books from…sitting in the living room. I just talked to NASA and they will contact the shelters and see what they want to do with these books in Spanish for children on climate change, on clouds because I know that they need them. Just have faith in yourself and keep track of everything. I log every book and every book out, there's a lot of things to do book drives, and they ask if I had a wish list. I’m like here’s a list of all the books collected in the past year-and-a-half and the ones in Spanish to bilingual books and personal lists. All the board books now because we don't need board books because people really like donating books for small children and the bulk of this population is between the ages of 12 and 17, not that they can't benefit from board books, but we're trying to get more of mid-level readers for them just to keep their interest.

 

Molly Ness

So as you talk about just the logging and the sort of housekeeping work that you're doing and just running this organization, I'm wondering if you're starting to have a sense of what your impact has?

 

Kristin Stadum

We have sent 5,000 books- Spanish and bilingual probably- 4000 Spanish and bilingual books. We are still, had a large-scale donation from a fraternity for women of a thousand books in English. And we have contacted all of the shelters to see if they can see they're going to use the books in English. We sent 1500 magazines and the more we send them, the more they need. We picked up a few new shelters in the past month or so. It’s going to need I believe that there were some 55,000 children who enter the Office of Refugee Resettlement program between October and June of this year and at any given point, there are about 13,500 kids in the shelters and these are mostly a non-profit shelter. Some of them are small- with small kids- 15 kids and some of them like the organization that we work with in Texas, New Mexico, and California- they have 1500 kids at any given point so, we just keep sending more books. We started with a goal of 2,000 books. So, this is a never-ending need for more books. We send them books they need, and people don't necessarily have access to books in Spanish. There are individuals across the country trying to donate to shelters and some of the basic needs because of what they've seen on the news, but also books. A lot of those are in English. When these kids have left their homes and their cultures, their families, everything they've ever known including their language and if they speak any English it's very little so…

 

Molly Ness

So you started with the clear goal in mind, what is your next goal? Where do you see yourself going with this?

 

Kristin Stadum

I want to keep doing this. I'd like it not to be in the living room at some point, but I can stay in the living room as long as it needs to. I think my husband and I should probably think of where we want to go on that, but I have no interest in ending the project. I think that every kid should have a book or 500 of them- more than one for every day of the year. I don't know- we don't have an end in sight, but we will keep sending books as long as we have books to send and money to send them.

 

Molly Ness

As long as there's a need and then- there's obviously- there's a need and your’re tapping into the communities and their organization that are showing the needs and providing the services that get to the population that you work with.

 

Kristin Stadum

Well, we didn't start with the separation of families at the border. It didn't start July of last year. That's when we heard about it, but there have been minor children in the system for years and some of these kids will spend the rest of their childhood under the Office of Refugee Resettlement. They will age out. They will literally spend the rest of their childhood and leave when they turn 18.

 

Molly Ness

Well, I know listeners will want to reach out to you in terms of providing books and supporting your work so I will direct listeners to my website endbookdeserts.com to be able to reach you. As we wrap up, let me ask you the question that I ask of every guest I ask- each guest because so many of the literacy activists and the social justice-oriented folks out there who are doing this work of ending book deserts- are lifelong readers themselves. They- as you spoke of the power of books- obviously- that's something you’re embrace in your personal life as well. I'm wondering- if you can tell us about a book either from your past or present that has had a really long-term impact on you- that book that just jumps to mind; that changed you or made you think in a new or different way. What's that one book? And I know it's nearly impossible to narrow it down to one but what's a standout in your mind?

 

Kristin Stadum

That is such a hard question. I think that's an even harder challenge. Today- I am tracking everything…. I think I’m like 60 books into 2019- fully read not including all the ones I’ve half listened to or half started, but I think that one book that really jumps out for me is- I can’t even remember the title- it was a collection of dystopian short stories that I read in 8th grade English class. And at the time, I didn’t know what …...by…. really jumped out at me and it’s the equalization of society by shoving people down, by handicapping individuals and the thing that jumped out at me is that we don't become equal by tearing ourselves down but by raising others up.

 

Molly Ness

Well obviously the work that you are doing is raising other people up and you talk about one of your colleagues who is right there packing books with you and sending books with you as a beautiful human being and Kristin- the work that you're doing- it epitomizes raising up other communities who are so in need of it. You are such a beautiful human being. We so appreciate your time with us today and the effort that you are constantly- constantly doing- taking to end book deserts. Thank you so much for your time.

 

Kristin Stadum

Thank you so much. 

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