Fri. May 20th, 2022
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The Cultivator Bookmobile, located in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, provides free books to Bertie County children.

Caroline Stephenson, the founder of Cultivator Bookmobile, recognized the lack of access to literature for local children in Hertford County. With the help of some supporters in Bertie County–Nicole Outlaw of Windsor and Jennifer Smyth of Roxobel, she expanded her outreach into Bertie.

Bertie News spoke with Stephenson about her efforts, and she explained that her full-time job as a filmmaker allows her to help those in need.

Simply put, she saw a problem and fixed it.

While the name of the 501c3 non-profit might imply that they only provide books, they expanded their reach to include a monthly food giveaway for those in need. Mt. Sinai Church of God in Murfreesboro hosts these events, and the food comes from the Food Bank of the Albemarle.

According to Stephenson, their mission is this:

…to create greater book and food access for Northeastern North Carolina.”

Caroline Stephenson

The Beginnings of Cultivator Bookmobile

In 2015, Stephenson realized that families in the area had no access to any retail bookstore. In fact, families would need to drive over an hour to find the nearest bookshop.

So to fill the need, Stephenson formed her non-profit in 2016, appointed a board of directors that included others with a heart for literacy, and opened the store as a beacon for those thirsty for knowledge. She gave away books to those who could not afford them. But she also sold local art, hosted arts and crafts classes, offered creative writing classes, held poetry slams, and grew a community garden.

Her store serviced both children and adults. Stephenson noted,

“There’s no age limit to literacy.”

Caroline Stephenson

From 2016 through 2019, this model worked successfully. Then 2020 arrived, bringing the coronavirus pandemic with it.

Stephenson and her Board of Directors pivoted from retail to a bookmobile model, setting up pop-up shops throughout Hertford, Bertie, Northhampton, and Gates counties when they could find free space and volunteers to staff the events.

They also implemented another idea, which was already in the works before the pandemic–they placed “Free Book Boxes” around the communities where people needed books. Children and parents could select books to keep, giving some kids book ownership for the first time.

Stephenson also explains that although the titles are for children, adult learners also benefit from the program.

Where to Find Cultivator Bookmobile Free Book Boxes in Bertie County

As of now, Cultivator Bookmobile has four free book boxes located throughout Bertie. If you know someone who needs books, here are the locations:

  • Kelford Community Park | Main Street, Kelford
  • Duck Thru | 208 E. Church Street, Lewiston Woodville (next to the newspaper boxes)
  • Glam Boutique | 115 E. Granville Street, Windsor (outside the front door)
  • Powellville Post Office | 103 Bethlehem Church Road, Powellsville
glam boutique
Cultivator Bookmobile recycles out-of-use newspaper boxes to keep the books out of the weather, like this one outside of the Glam Boutique in Windsor.

Cultivator Bookmobile Appreciates Community Help

Of course, Cultivator Bookmobile is a community effort–nobody can do it alone! So how can you support them? Below is a list of some of the ways you can help.

Volunteer:

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Cultivator Bookmobile. This option is excellent for those who want to aid in this project but don’t have money to donate. Volunteers can help collect book donations, work mobile events, and distribute to families who need help.

Donate books:

Right now, the bulk of book donations come from the Book Harvest in Durham. However, local community donations are always welcome (and needed!). You don’t need to bring donations to Murfreesboro–place them in one of the Free Book Boxes around Bertie County.

Host the Cultivator Bookmobile:

Do you have the space for the bookmobile to distribute books? Host a pop-up event for the community! This option is perfect for pre-schools, churches, or other places with spacious off-street parking.

Besides hosting a bookmobile event, you can also host a Free Book Box and serve as the steward, keeping the box tidy and clean.

Become a sponsor:

You sponsor this outreach with a tax-free donation; become a member by clicking here.

Spread the word on social media:

Follow this non-profit group on Facebook. Not only will you see all the upcoming events, but your likes and shares will also help them market their services to the community.

Despite the pandemic putting a wrinkle in their plans for the past several months, the Cultivator Bookmobile found ways to be resilient and responsive to the community’s needs. Their post-pandemic goals include installing more Free Book Boxes throughout northeastern North Carolina, expanding their food giveaways, and finding new hosts for their bookmobile and nutrition programs. So their mission to improve literacy and food access continues.

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