By JILL RIFKIN
ALBANY — A mammoth swimming pool overflowing with exciting books for all ages? Sounds like a setting concocted by J.K. Rowling or Dr. Seuss. But, it’s a reality at Grassroot Givers at 274 Washington Avenue in downtown Albany, with Capital District children and adults in need the lucky beneficiaries.
The prime magicians of the transformation of the former YMCA pool into a meticulously organized book treasure trove are Mary Partridge-Brown, former director of the Bethlehem Children’s School, and Roberta Sandler, founding partner and former pediatric nurse at Albany Medical Center. These two joined forces in 2011 to change the former pool into a giant repository for gently used or new donated books, offered free of charge to those who need them. With “Giving With Dignity,” as their motto, the two women operate a free community store filled with clothing and household goods, all in top notch condition, at the site. Customers can choose what they wish, receiving help in making selections, if desired.
“We share only what wed be proud to have in our own homes,” Partridge-Brown emphasized. With the help of hundreds of volunteers from area colleges, scout troops and civic organizations, Partridge-Brown and Sandler have sorted, organized and then given away more than 70,000 books, primarily to the Albany Public Schools. Other beneficiaries of books as well as clothing and home décor are more than 50 non-profit agencies catering to under-served Capital District residents, including homeless shelters, housing programs and people in transition, nursing homes and veterans.
Convinced the way out of poverty is through literacy, Partridge-Brown and Sandler have also set up numerous “Little Free Library” boxes in front of each of the Albany public schools. Residents of any age may help themselves to books or “leave a book, take a book.” “Sixty percent of inner city homes don’t have any books in their homes at all,” Sandler said. “We want to do all we possibly can to change that.”
Visitors to Grassroot Givers climb down one of several staircases to the enormous pool floor and are confronted with dozens of labeled bookshelves holding an astonishing variety of books, carefully arranged according to topic and alphabetized. Best sellers, biography, poetry, classics and more, with comfortable sofas and chairs arranged nearby to encourage “in-pool” reading, minus the water. There’s even a separate children’s section, where Mary Poppins, Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, baby pop-up books and puzzles vie for the curious child’s attention. Tiny rocking chairs and a blow-up raft lined with plush cushions provide the perfect locale for fostering a love of reading. Patrons may read at the site or take books home to keep.
Hardworking volunteers rave about the organizations and its founders. “Mary and Roberta are absolutely amazing people,” said Norma Redmond. “I’ve never met people so kind, so caring and so compassionate.”
Prospective donors or volunteers ay contact www.grassrootgivers.org for information. Donated books, clothing and household items should be in excellent condition. Books accepted are generally less than 10 years old.
Grassroot Givers invites all avid readers and book lovers to its Book Club Open House at its facility on Thursday, March 24, at 274 Washington Ave., in Albany.
Join for light refreshments in our “lap pool library” (no bathing suit required). Suggested donation is $25.
Please RSVP on our Facebook page (type in Book Club Open House), call Mary at (518) 542-1276 or email our event coordinator, Heather, at firstname.lastname@example.org.