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Publishers donate books for children in Melbourne public housing towers

Not-for-profit organisation AMSSA Youth Connect has worked with Readings to facilitate the donation of more than 1000 children’s books from publishers including Hachette, Hardie Grant and Walker Books to residents in public housing towers in inner-city Melbourne, in response to residents’ requests.

AMSSA Youth Connect is currently collecting donations after volunteers, led by team leader Sabrina Adem, found discarded piles of boxes intended for children in the foyers of some of the towers placed into ‘hard lockdown’ on Saturday, 4 July. Adem said the volunteers believed the boxes were provided by the state government, and found they contained inappropriate items, including driving manuals, air fresheners and seeds for planting.

While eight out of the nine towers in Flemington and North Melbourne are now out of hard lockdown, Adem and fellow AMSSA volunteer Madz Rehorek told Books+Publishing that families are predominantly staying inside as playgrounds are closed and there is still a significant police presence in the community. AMSSA volunteers subsequently door-knocked the 3000 Flemington and North Melbourne residents to find out their needs, and many parents requested picture books to help keep kids occupied while staying inside.

Donated books will be distributed to families in Flemington and North Melbourne, although Adem and Rehorek said they are also ‘preparing for the very real possibility that we may be supporting the Carlton, Collingwood and Richmond towers as well, as many families are isolating and there is a severe lack of support or communication with residents by DHHS [the Department of Health and Human Services] in regards to healthcare’.

As AMSSA does not have the capacity to sanitise books en masse ‘and safety is a priority for the donations given to residents’, it is currently accepting donations of new books only from bookshops as well as publishers. The volunteer-run organisation said larger one-off donations are preferable due to the limited space and number of volunteers imposed by Covid-19 restrictions.

‘It’s been so useful to have publishers rally around this, saving us from handling hundreds of donated books individually, as well as giving residents quality reading materials,’ said Adem and Rehorek. ‘We need to ensure that residents are respected and that donations are relevant, and led by their requests. The sensory experience with picture books is perfect for children and so far some of the books that have been donated are so beautiful!’

A spokesperson from Hachette said the company was ‘delighted to help out in this situation and work with AMSSA on this great initiative’.

‘We all understand how hard lockdown can be and we feel for these families in Melbourne that were locked down so quickly and without preparation,’ said Walker Books publisher Linsay Knight. ‘We are just happy we can help them in any small way by providing books for the families.’

Hardie Grant Publishing group managing director Julie Pinkham told Books+Publishing that on the weekend the hard lockdown of the towers was announced she had been contacted by several staff wanting to help the families affected, and that the publisher subsequently made a donation of books to The Venny. ‘We then found out that AMSS had doorknocked the flats and parents wanted picture books’, she said, adding that Hardie Grant would provide these today.

AMSSA said in a statement, ‘The Victorian Government has failed residents of these nine housing estates, and is still failing 33 Alfred Street, which remains under the hard lockdown. There is no reason for children to look outside their windows to massive police presence, when across the road children are free to go for a walk or get necessities, like books, to get through the days.’

While the immediate priority is children’s books, Adem and Rehorek said AMSSA is also keen to discuss providing books for young adults. ‘These choices would be best led by POC / Bla(c)k community members’, they said. Any booksellers or publishers interested in collaborating on a list of relevant books, please contact Sabrina Adem via email or Instagram.

Pictured: Donated children’s books (supplied by AMSSA)


Category: Local news