ITHACA, N.Y. — With over 1,000 toys available at the Finger Lakes Toy Library, for the past two years, community members have their fair share of puzzles, dolls, blocks and more to pick from. The library provides toys for children in the community to borrow, play with and return, as a membership library. Now, after successfully reaching 425 children since its inception, the library is looking to expand.

The library has applied for a project-based grant through ”A Community Thrives” from the USA Today Network, a nationwide program to help organizations that are working on community building initiatives, as well as an additional operating expense grant. After applying, the library had raise a minimum of $3,000 through the platform Crowdrise in order to be considered for the grant.

“Instead of making our goal $3,000 we decided to make it $5,000, because one of the things (grant reviewers) really want to see is community support for the project,” said Debra Lewis, the board president of Finger Lakes Toy Library. “They want to see as many people as possible giving as much money as possible to show that the community is on board with this project and really wants this and needs this.”

The library has met its $5,000 goal.

The toy library is looking to expand its toy collection for kids of all ages. (Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice)
The toy library is looking to expand its toy collection for kids of all ages. (Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice)

Lewis said the community has shown a real excitement about borrowing toys for the short term. Borrowing toys, rather than purchasing them, allows families to try toys out before they spending money and provides children access to a variety of things to play with.

“People are also really excited to donate toys, even people who don’t have kids or had kids a long time ago and have held onto toys. People are engaging in that way,” Lewis said.

The library’s membership program uses a sliding scale, offering memberships on a pay-what-you-can basis. This allows everyone, regardless of financial status, to have access to the supply of toys.

When the library was founded in 2017, initial funding came from community donations and a grant from the Community Foundation of Tompkins County. HABA USA, a toy company based in Skaneateles, donated several toys and Sustainable Tompkins funded eco-education toys. A grant from the Friends of Tompkins County Public Library also allowed for a collection of literacy-building toys.

Related: Let’s play! Check out 100s of toys at Ithaca’s magical new toy lending library

If awarded the USA Today grant, the first order of business is to move the library from its 450 square foot location in Clinton West Plaza to a larger location. A larger space would also allow for more children to able to stay and play at the library itself.

“Our primary goal in growing into a larger location is to just make space for people to be there while they’re checking out toys and when they’re coming to play,” said Lewis.

Lewis said the library also hopes to expand their toy collection to include small play structures, adaptive toys for kids with special needs and toys that cater to a wider age demographic, and could host other on-site activities, such as playtimes, with a larger space.  

Friends of the Tompkins County Library provided funds for toys designed to promote literacy and get kids thinking. (Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice)
Friends of the Tompkins County Library provided funds for toys designed to promote literacy and get kids thinking. (Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice)

“If we had a bigger space, we could host playtimes on site. We could host classes on site to help parents learn how to play with their children in different ways,” said Lewis. “We could rent the space for birthday parties as another source of income.”

Susan Raymond, a parent who uses the toy library, also said she thinks a larger space would be beneficial.

It would be wonderful if there was more space to play and meet up with other families there, but we have made do,” said Raymond. “And the families we meet there are always very agreeable to kids being in each others’ space.”

The current fundraising period for the “A Community Thrives” grant ends on April 12. After passing their initial benchmark, organizers are setting higher goals.

“We would just love it if we could show that we can not only reach the $5,000 that we set, but even go beyond and show, ‘Hey, we raised $7,000 or $8,000 from this many people.’ Then, they would see that and really know that the community wants this to happen,” said Lewis.

The “A Community Thrives” grant winners will be announced by early June, according to Lewis.

The Finger Lakes Toy Library is at 609 W. Clinton St., Suite 106, Ithaca. The library’s spring hours are 3 p.m. to 7 p.m on Mondays, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays and 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

Featured image: Families pick out toys at the Finger Lakes Toy Library (Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice)

Rae Harris

Rae Harris is an intern at the Ithaca Voice and a staff writer for Buzzsaw Magazine. She will be graduating from Ithaca College with a B.A. in journalism and a minor in sociology in May 2019. Contact her...