July 31, 2018

These women are sending books to the detained kids separated from their parents at the US border


Children at Ursula, the largest detention facility maintained by Customs and Border Protection, in McAllen Texas.

Thanks to the zero tolerance policy that Donald Trump’s administration began enforcing last April, countless families have been ripped apart at the US-Mexican border in recent months. Currently, more than 2,500 children have been sent to shelters and detention centers, often kept in terrible living conditions, while they wait to be reunited with their parents. Now, as Lauren Rearick reports at the Huffington Post, two women have started a campaign, 2,000 Libros, in hopes of sending some comfort to the detained children — in the form of books.

In response to this national crisis, Elizabeth Ballou and Kristin Stadum, who live in the DC area, started a campaign in early July to send books in books in Spanish, or in both Spanish and English, to children in detention centers around the country. “Books have always offered me some form of comfort,” Ballou told Rearick. “They give us such solace. Books transport you to an entirely different world, which is kind of a magic in and of itself.”

When Ballou realized that there were no organizations designed to send books to the children, she decided to start her own. Feeling she lacked the necessary experience to take on the project alone, she reached out to Stadum, who has served as a volunteer and board member with the DC Books to Prisons Project, a nonprofit dedicated to sending books to incarcerated people in thirty-four states. Stadum was happy to take on the project.

They soon found that plenty of people were interested in supporting their goal. “The DC Books to Prison board agreed very quickly to back this effort,” Stadum told Rearick. “It aligned with our mission, and these children are prisoners.” Ballou reached out to several of the immigrant child detention facilities to gauge their interest in accepting donations, and independent bookstores throughout Washington teamed up to help advertise the women’s effort, encouraging donations.

It was important to Ballou and Stadum that the books be printed in languages that would be familiar to the detained children. “They have left their homes, their countries, their language, their culture, their extended families to come for a better world and then they were separated from their parents. We want to give them a little bit of comfort, a little bit of a familiar language and words and pictures,” Stadum explained to Marcella Robertson from WUSA, DC’s CBS affiliate.

Protests against the Trump administration’s family separation policy have been ongoing.

With the help of bookstores and social media, the women quickly spread the word about their campaign. In just the last three weeks, people from around the country have sent over 1,100 books to support the effort. The titles include picture books, as well as Spanish- and English-language editions of popular kids’ books like Captain Underpants, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter.

“They’re coming through my tiny Capitol Hill apartment which is like 675 square feet,” Stadum told Robertson. With the help of friends and other volunteers, the women pack and ship these books to various centers. The first shipment on July 14th went to two shelters: Crittenton Services for Children and Families in California and Southwest Key in Texas.

Stadum and Ballou are both lifelong book lovers who appreciate the comfort and escape of getting lost in a book. “There are these beautiful, magical things and you forget about the entire real world for a little bit,” Stadum said. “I think the kids need to think about someplace else, and if it’s someplace magical, even better.”

Stadum adds that, since being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis five years ago, she understands the need to escape all the more acutely. “I volunteer a lot to feel better. It’s hard to feel bad for yourself when you help other people,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Of course, the women realize that the horrors these children face can’t be erased by a book, but they hope it can return some semblance of comfort and childhood to their lives. “I was horrified to think of children being taken from their parents,” Stadum said. “There’s comfort in knowing that somewhere out there, a child is reading a book.”



Gaia Steinfeld DeNisi is an intern at Melville House.