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Library on wheels

By JAZMINE BUNCH

RCNH News Intern

MURFREESBORO – As Coronavirus caused an economic slow down nationally, local businesses like the Cultivator Bookstore in Murfreesboro found itself closing its doors this spring.

But that closure didn’t last long as bookstore founder Caroline Stephenson decided to take the Cultivator mobile, creating The Cultivator Bookmobile.

The bookstore closed to the public due to COVID-19 in April, but according to Stephenson, they could’ve used a little more community support to help them sustain their business prior to the pandemic.

“We do a lot with a very little,” she said. “And we do a lot for a little because it’s the right thing to do.”

The Cultivator was a recognized 501C-3 Nonprofit, operating solely on book donations, community sponsorships and unpaid volunteers. As the only bookstore in an hour’s drive in all directions, Stephenson said the overall goal is to get books in the hands of children, and to increase overall book access and literacy in Northeastern North Carolina.

Staying true to the mission during the challenging times of COVID-19, she recognized the need for book access was greater now more than ever.

With the new social distancing guidelines and restricted summer plans, the Cultivator Bookmobile was the perfect, socially-distance solution for young readers looking for an adventure.

“Even though you’re stuck in your house, a book can take you anywhere,” Stephenson said.

Although it was difficult for her to see the Cultivator Bookstore close after nearly four years of operation, the transition to a children’s “library on wheels” proved to be a timely venture.

“I think the Bookmobile at this moment in time is better because a lot of people are still in their homes, and they aren’t going out as much as they would,” she said. “So, we’re coming to them, and that’s a really good thing.”

Each week, Stephenson packs her gray minivan with tables, chairs, boxes of books and fresh produce from local produce partners and heads to the Bookmobile’s sponsored stop of the week.

All volunteers are equipped with masks and gloves for distribution, and those coming to pick up produce or books are also required to wear masks.

The Bookmobile provided free books and local produce to residents and nonresidents on Friday of last week, an event sponsored by the Murfreesboro Housing Authority, in partnership with the Brown Family Farm of Murfreesboro.

“This educational experience for the children gives them something to do during the summer,” said Sandra Williams.

Williams is a property manager in Murfreesboro, Gaston, Garysburg, Woodland, Seaboard and Winton. She said she looks forward to partnering with Stephenson to host future Bookmobile stops at her other properties.

Sponsorships for the Bookmobile are $100 and can be made by anyone. Sponsors choose the location for the mobile library to set up.

In addition to the Bookmobile, Stephenson manages five “little free libraries” around the Roanoke Chowan area. These are green, recycled newspaper stands that are located at Riverside Park and Food Lion in Murfreesboro; Salamis on Highway 35 in Potecasi; the Gallery Theatre in Ahoskie; and the Dollar General in Winton.

“We’re still trying to meet the need of the community,” Stephenson said, “Our message to kids in Northeastern North Carolina is that we care, we’re supporting your literacy, and promoting reading… If you have a literate community, you have a better community.”

The next scheduled stop for the Cultivator Bookmobile is on Thursday, July 2 at Learning Unlimited in Ahoskie. They will be in Winton at the Farmer’s Market on Friday, July 3.

Upcoming host locations are posted to their Instagram and Facebook pages under the name Cultivator Bookmobile.

The nonprofit is always accepting sponsors, donations and volunteers. If you are interested in being a donor or volunteer, you can contact Stephenson by phone at 252-395-2327 or email cultivatornc@gmail.com.