Issabelle Fontaine, 13, of Bethel, Connecticut, a member of Girl Scouts of Connecticut and an eighth-grader at Bethel Middle School, worked with a partner to collect more than 10,000 books and distribute them in laundromats, schools, daycare centers and food distribution sites through an initiative they called “The Little Laundromat Library Project.” Issabelle has always loved books. “When I was a small child my parents used to read to me and I still have many of my favorite books from when I was a child,” she said. “I want others to love reading and books as much as I do.” But she realized that not everyone is so fortunate to have easy access to a plentiful supply of books.
So in late 2019, Issabelle asked guests coming to her birthday party to bring a children’s book instead of a gift, and then recruited a friend to help her collect more. They decided to place their books in a few laundromats “so children could read instead of being on technology while waiting for their clothes to dry,” said Issabelle. After they appealed for book donations online, books from all over the United States appeared on Issabelle’s doorstep, and the duo started distributing them through schools and daycare facilities. Issabelle collected, labeled, cleaned, repaired, bagged and distributed books, and created a makeshift library in her parents’ garage to support her efforts. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they shifted their distribution strategy and began handing out bags of books at food distribution sites, church food pantries and school book drives. She also fulfilled requests from teachers whose students were at home due to COVID and couldn’t go to the library. “It made me so happy to give people books because I love books so much,” said Issabelle.