Salem teens invite visitors to “take what you need” from library

Sonja Somerville, the Salem Public Library’s teen librarian, restocks the “Take What You Need” wall in the library’s ground floor women’s bathroom on Tuesday, May 24 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

For parents of young children, being stuck in public without a clean diaper can be a big source of stress.

Salem Public Library workers and the library’s teen advisory board want to help with a new “take what you need” wall in the library’s family bathroom.

Added in May, a 36-pocket organizer hangs in the unisex bathroom in the upstairs children’s section of the main library at 585 Liberty St. S.E. The pockets hold diapers, plastic bags, wipes, onesies and other items parents and caregivers on the go might need.

Sonja Somerville, the teen librarian, said the project began in the library’s main floor bathrooms last fall.

The teen advisory board, a group of 21 middle and high school students, wanted to do more to help homeless people who regularly visit the library. Somerville researched what other libraries were doing, and the group decided to put together the “Take What You Need” organizer in the downstairs bathrooms.

The organizer includes items like toothbrushes, pads and tampons, combs and lip balm, as well as cards for local resources like food banks and help with bills.

Teen members wanted cards with contact information for suicide hotlines as well.

“Those get taken very frequently,” Somerville said.

The project got started with a $300 budget approved by the library advisory board to buy organizers and initial items, plus a secure drop box near the library’s teen section where people can leave donations. The Salem Public Library Foundation and Friends of Salem Public Library also helped with startup items.

Since then, Somerville said it’s been sustained by community donations, which come in when she posts on social media.

“The community has been great,” Somerville said. “Every time I post something about this project we get a flurry of donations.”

Anyone can donate by buying items off the library’s Amazon wish list or dropping items in the bin on the library’s upstairs balcony near the Teen Scene room on the south side of the building.

Items are rotated seasonally. In the winter, the library gave out about 400 hand warmers. Somerville has just put in sunscreen as the weather warms up.

The addition of the organizer in the children’s section was intended to support people visiting the library with youngsters, Somerville said.

Supplies are restocked daily by library employees, but Somerville says as the library moves back toward more in-person activities for its teen advisory board, she hopes to have teen volunteers work on restocking over the summer.

Somerville said she’s had a few patrons ask where to find the information boards, but she hasn’t had a patron tell her they’ve used the service. She suspects that’s because people may be ashamed of seeking or needing help.

But every day, items disappear steadily – a sign to her that the board is working as intended. So far, she said the library has had no issues with anybody making a mess in the bathrooms or vandalizing the organizers.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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