YORK COUNTY — Lorrie Hamilton Mercer had an idea when she retired from York County School District. She wanted to help support literacy in the community even after retiring.
Two years later, that idea has grown into the Book Box at the Washington Square Laundromat.
She was inspired by a project she found on Facebook called Books on Bikes in Newport News. After teaching at three schools, including Yorktown Elementary School (YES), she knew there was a need for books within the community, so she decided to set up a book distribution site.
She started talking with her friend who was familiar with book projects.
“A friend of mine, Stephanie Thompson, she had a daughter named Nina and Nina passed away from cancer when she was seven,” she said. “Nina was an avid reader and so Stephanie did a book project every year to remember Nina. I talked to her about this idea I had and one year she helped me get the funds I needed to start this project.”
COVID-19 resulted in the project having a bit of a slow start, however, it hasn’t stopped her as she has managed to support the Book Box at the Washington Square Laundromat.
“I take many books, some donated and some bought with the money from the project for Nina,” she explained. “I supplement in books I know kids will like and so I’ve been able to go to local bookstores and buy some books for them.”
“It’s really easy. I just have these little bits, that are separated by grade level,” she continued. “I let [the kids] pick out a book or two to take home and build up their personal libraries.”
The goal is to help kids who don’t have easy access to books be able to have books to take home for themselves, and it is something she feels passionate about.
“I just happened to be leaving Food Lion one day and this child was sitting outside of the laundromat here in Washington Square and he had a cellphone in his hand and I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if that kid had a book in his hand?’ And so it just happened to be about the time for Nina’s memorial book event and Stephanie wanted to see if we could set up some more free little libraries,” she remembered.
Unfortunately, the laundromat didn’t have room for a complete free library, so instead, she found a bin and wrote things like ‘take me home’ and ‘read me’ on it. She restocks around once a week, or every two weeks, and is always delighted she has to do so.
She would like to expand the project further, and is currently trying to contact another local laundromat to set up a Book Box as well as a trailer park. All of the places she is currently looking at are places near where she used to teach in York County.
Most of the donations she receives are from people who know her personally. The whole project mostly operates out of her dining room. She said if the project continues to grow, she might look to add a drop-off location, something she does not currently have.
“It’s really started mostly with friends and church members and teachers,” she explained.
She has always felt strongly about the importance of reading, having worked as both a reading specialist and an English as a second language teacher, and believes children should always have access to books.
“One of the neat things about this program is that there are older siblings picking out books for their younger siblings to read to them, and I thought that was really cool,” she said.
“I think it’s really important for kids to be able to choose their own books. I think they’re going to read a lot more when they’re able to choose their books,” she added.