Story and Pictures by Alice E. Gerard
Children between the ages of newborn and 12 years will have the opportunity to win books and colorful book pillows in a raffle being held at the Grand Island Memorial Library in April. Thirteen book pillows were donated to the library by members of the Grand Island Golden Age Center.
According to Youth Services Librarian Carly Spatar, “Our goal is to encourage reading, engagement and participation, and also to get kids excited about ramping up summer and all of the things that we are going to be doing here.”
Book pillows are designed to have a handle to facilitate carrying, as well as a pocket for placing a book.
Anna Vaccaro, president of the Grand Island Golden Age Club, said, “Our sewing group at the senior center was making these pillows and was looking for an outreach to do something for the community. As a community outreach, we decided to work with the library to present it as a free raffle. The kids don’t have to put anything in, but they get the opportunity to get both a pillow and a book. We felt that it was our way to better the community, especially through reading, which we all love, as well as sewing. It’s kind of a marriage in heaven. Sewing and reading.”
Each book will have something to do with the pillow in which it’s placed.
One of the pillows is decorated to reflect the story of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” a children’s picture book designed, illustrated and written by Eric Carle and originally published in 1969.
Vaccaro explained that Kathie James “was the one who came up with the idea of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ as a book pillow, and she made that one and others.”
Book pillows are geared toward different reading levels, with the most advanced being the pillows decorated with images from the “Harry Potter” series of books. According to Spatar, the library is considering another raffle for those pillows and the books from the “Harry Potter” series that will be included. “If there’s anything that pertains to teens – maybe because there’s ‘Harry Potter’ – I could separate those and put that into a teen competition,” Spatar said.
Book pillows have been popular with the Grand Island community since prior to the upcoming raffle. They were sold at the Golden Age Center’s “Holiday Happenings” event in October 2021.
According to Jan Yardley, who has been sewing pillows at the Golden Age Center, “People really liked the pillows. We sold almost all of them. I think that we only had four or five left over. It was very well received. A lot of people thought that it was a very good idea. Children love to carry things around. It just sort of fit together, because there are so many of us who do book club that are also in the ‘Seniors in Stitches’ and the quilting club that we could combine the two things that we like really well. We really feel strongly about children reading.”
All are welcome to both sewing groups, whether they are beginners or experienced sewers, Yardley said. “ ‘Seniors in Stitches’ meets every Thursday afternoon at the center. People don’t have to have any knowledge of sewing. We start right at the very beginning. We’ve kind of done the same thing with the quilting group. People are working on projects at their level of comfort, and they’re learning new things along the way.”
Pictured with book pillows stuffed with children’s books are, front row, from left: Golden Age Center sewing groups members Michelle Chasse, Martha Marrinan, Jan Yardley and Linda Smith, plus (back row, from left) Grand Island Memorial Library Director Bridgette Heinz, Golden Age Center sewing group members Joy Mesmer and Anna Vaccaro, Golden Age Center Recreation Leader Carrie Mesmer, and Grand Island Memorial Youth Services Librarian Carly Spatar.
Michelle Chasse compared the sewing groups at the Golden Age Center to “the 21st century girls’ quilting club. A quilting bee.” She noted inexperienced sewers were welcomed to participate, along with more experienced sewers. “It’s so nice to work with all of these talented people. Some of us have lesser skills than others. You start out by ironing and cutting and sewing and then, you have the people who do the designs, but it’s a cooperative effort that makes everybody feel good. There are times I’ve messed things up, and then, I’ve learned to take them apart and put it together again. We’re all proud of what we do.”
Golden Age Center Recreation Leader Carrie Mesmer explained sewing projects at the Golden Age Center have been made possible by generous donations of supplies. “By the grace of some very generous individuals in the community of Grand Island and in Niagara Falls, we were given large donations of fabric and thread and various quilting tools and sewing machines and sewing tools.”
Additionally, the Golden Age Center’s budget also included the purchase of sewing machines.
Chasse said creating book pillows for children is something that is very meaningful to her. “It brings out all of our creativity and nurturing, because most of us have children and grandchildren that have a love of reading. And, to give them something that they can do in the car or at nighttime. These are going to be perfect.”
In addition to the book pillows that were sold at “Holiday Happenings,” the sewing groups at the Grand Island Golden Age Center also gave book pillows to library staff during the “Love Your Libraries Week,” an event that was started in Australia and is centered on Valentine’s Day.
“In an effort to recognize what staff does, not only for the Golden Age Center members, we wanted to recognize all of the efforts that Bridgette and the staff of the Grand Island Memorial Library do for the Golden Age Center members by coming once a month and providing a portable book mobile,” Mesmer said.
“Basically, my car is a book mobile once a month,” said Grand Island Memorial Library Director Bridgette Heintz.
“So, it really is very good for the members to be able to check out items,” Mesmer said. “And then, additionally, all of the work that she does for the book club at the center, which is a very active book club. Not only is it about the reading, it’s about learning. It may include field trips, food, fun, speakers.”
According to Yardley, upcoming events at the Golden Age Center include a craft show on May 4. “It’s a Wednesday. It’s in the evening. During the month of April, people are going to work on the projects that they feel most comfortable with so, whether you get a quilted table runner or you get potholders or mug rugs or whatever, mats, coasters, all kinds of things, you have to come and see. We will possibly take orders for pillows, if people are interested.”
Donations of material, thread, and pillow forms are always welcome, Mesmer added.
Mesmer said she is hoping for more outreach opportunities in the community in the future. “Moving forward, there are other things that we will be doing that may benefit other organizations, as well. We do have projects scheduled, but we are open to ideas, and we try to accommodate all levels of ability. I think that’s the most important thing. The motivation is that you need to come down to the center and engage in these.”
Vaccaro said, “This outreach has turned into is a beautiful project for the community and for our senior center.”
Some of the book pillows that will be given away at the April raffle at the Grand Island Memorial Library, which has children excited about reading as the goal.