Sun, 24 Jan 2021

Encountering love, knowledge on Canberra's streets

Xinhua
28 Nov 2020, 13:30 GMT+10

Photo taken on Nov. 12, 2020 shows a "Library of Crateness" in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Chu Chen/Xinhua)

Books, toys, food, clothes and sanitary products are available in mini libraries, cupboards or even fridges on Canberra's streets for people in need. Small as they may seem, they could sometimes be life changing, offering love and building communities and relationships.

CANBERRA, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- Driving through the streets of different suburbs in the Australian capital Canberra, one could easily come across "mini libraries", some of which are small wooden shelves, some are cupboards and some are even fridges.

Maybe the one created by Juliette Lumbers is one of the biggest: with hundreds of books, the green metal shed of barely two or three square meters in the north of the city was named the "Library of Crateness".

Lumbers, 45, came up with the idea of creating what she called the minor street library about three years ago.

"I first started it as something to do with my daughter, just because I thought it would be nice for her to be able to exchange some books," she recalled. Her daughter, about four then, had too many children's books and would like to have the books on rotation in this way.

So they started with a small Ikea shelf on the front lawn, with about 30 books. "We also put a couple of toys in there," she said.

The door of the shelf kept falling off, while more books were donated to the mini library. Thus Lumbers decided to have bigger space for it, and moved the shed at her back garden to the roadside, where she placed books in old milk crates.

"We have a bus shelter at the front," she said. "I thought this doubles the space for people. It's nice because people can also shelter in there when it is too hot or it is raining."

During the past three years, Lumbers saw different people using the library, which made she feel rewarding.

Photo taken on Nov. 12, 2020 shows Juliette Lumbers and her "Library of Crateness" in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Chu Chen/Xinhua)

"Sometimes I saw cars pull up, and people took some books and then leave," she said. She now has so many books from community donation that the library is always overflowing.

"Sometimes I saw some maybe university students," she continued. "I heard them go in and they were giggling in there. I asked 'did you find what you want?' And they said 'yes, this is all we need.'"

Lumbers' home was close to a school, and she put a lot of textbooks in her library, so that students could check for what they need there first before they go to buy in book stores. She even equipped her shed with raincoats which visitors could take way and light so that people could read at night.

A staff member working for student engagement in the Australian National University, she remembered receiving some anonymous notes in her mail box, one of which said "thank you so much for providing this, and we use it all the time."

The Library of Crateness is just one among many pantries dotting the streets in Canberra.

Lumbers said that there was a network of street libraries. "Their idea was to have at least one street library in every single suburb in Canberra," she said.

In a Facebook group called "Canberra Street Pantry Group", there are more than 500 members. Apart from books, they also offer free toys, food, free clothes and sanitary products for women.

Photo taken on Nov. 12, 2020 shows a street pantry to share food with people who need it in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Chu Chen/Xinhua)

Local newspaper "The Canberra Times" once visited a pantry by Margaret McGrath, who said that her street stalls have become "a place of refuge for young mums, transgender people and anyone in need of support." She also talked about the experience of a 17-year-old pregnant woman without family assistance, who was later provided with a cot, a car seat, a bassinet, a change table and sanitary items by street pantry.

"It's been life saving, life changing for them," she was quoted in the report. "It is about recycling and it is about reducing waste and building communities and relationships."

People always share their experience and things they could offer on social media.

"I know at the moment particular during COVID, there have been people saying 'I don't know what to do for Christmas', and someone would say just go to street pantry because they have gift packs and things for children," said Lumbers.

Although she said that maintenance was the biggest problem she faced, the woman planned to have more seating area inside her tiny library.

"I hope that it provides safety and comfort for people," she said. ■

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