Walking the talk in a cobbler's shoes

I was caught off-guard a bit recently when someone asked about what magazines I like to read. Of course I have many favorites and always have. It’s fun to find them in the mailbox and I can’t pass a newsstand without stopping to see the latest issues.
It got me thinking, though, that I could do more to organize the kinds of magazine literacy projects that I am asking others to create in their own communities – to walk the talk. Moving magazines around from donors to new readers is heavy, hard work. It’s better to roll up my sleeves, and be able to say “do as I do,” rather than just “do as I say.” This also gives me a chance to learn first-hand about what works and what can use improvement.
So, I decided to organize a KinderHarvest magazine collection here in Princeton. Early in the morning, I stopped by a Starbucks that agreed to set up a magazine collection bin. The first lesson I learned from that is just how much interest there is in this idea of recycling magazines for literacy, and how easy it can be to get started. At lunch, I visited a favorite restaurant that always has great magazines in its well-appointed lobby to ask if I could pick up the ones ready to discard. At the end of the day, I visited a grocery store with a wonderful and growing magazine collection to ask about setting up a bin for recycled magazines from their shoppers.
During a few very receptive telephone calls to sign up food pantries and homeless shelters to receive the magazines, the director of an adult education program noted the types of magazines that would be most interesting and useful to her students. Our model has always been to defer to teachers and other literacy agents to define their needs, because they know them best. Our mission is to inspire and match new and gently used magazine donations to fill those needs. I know that the volunteers across the U.S. organizing KinderHarvest and other magazine literacy projects encounter this challenge every day. It just hit home that much more clearly to hear it directly from this local literacy leader.
So this reinforced in my mind the importance of having a way for literacy programs to indicate their magazine preferences – perhaps using an online form (now on the drawing board). It also underscores that it will be important to be able to sort magazines for delivery, so that all can be put to good use. I also developed sample letters that can be used by KinderHarvest volunteers in other communities to get their magazine collections started.
I a couple of days, I will pick up a batch of magazines and deliver a bit of “home” to children and families in a nearby homeless shelter. It’s a nice walk.