On most days, children’s librarian Link Ross watches dozens of people coming and going through the South Philadelphia branch of the Free Library.

Its patrons are vast and diverse. On any given day, Ross will see mothers with children, teens with homework, and people looking for directions to shelter or a place to get hot food.

As libraries transform into social spaces with a focus on community, they have become a lifeline for those experiencing poverty and housing insecurity.

In support, on May 11, library volunteers will assemble personal hygiene kits that will be distributed to patrons upon request. The kits will be filled with soap, socks, bandages, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, sunscreen, tampons, and pads.

They are being funded through a $1,200 Hatching Innovations grant from the library system’s strategic initiatives department, which allows staff to propose and potentially get funding for their ideas. Unique to South Philly, the kits are a symbol of how librarians innovate to go beyond the stacks and respond to the ever-changing social needs of patrons and neighborhoods.

Volunteers and Friends of the Free Library will gather on May 11 to pack personal hygiene kits that will be given out to library patrons upon request.
TyLisa C. Johnson / Staff
Volunteers and Friends of the Free Library will gather on May 11 to pack personal hygiene kits that will be given out to library patrons upon request.

Ross, 29, spoke with The Inquirer on Thursday about what inspired the care kits project.

Why did you feel the personal hygiene kits were necessary?

It’s our goal to make the library a comfortable place for everyone … and if personal hygiene is an issue, there is a library policy that [says] if that becomes disruptive to other patrons, we can ask someone to leave. As a librarian, I do not feel comfortable administering that rule without at least also providing a resource. So in this case, the resource would be the hygiene kits that could help them get cleaned up.… And also, if someone just doesn’t have enough money to buy the things they need, they can ask for [a kit] and we will hand it over.

How did this effort come together?

I proposed it. It’s definitely just our response to working in the library every day. We see tons of people come through.… Hygiene and access to hygiene products is a thing that I’ve noticed is an issue for some people.

Link Ross, the children's librarian at the South Philadelphia library, led the personal hygiene kit effort at the branch.
TyLisa C. Johnson / Staff
Link Ross, the children's librarian at the South Philadelphia library, led the personal hygiene kit effort at the branch.

What have you observed everyday with patrons?

A lot of the people that I see may not have access to a place to shower and do laundry every day. I see these people around, in the park behind the library, and then they come in here. I have an understanding, just from observing the neighborhood, of what people might need, and people also ask us for things; direction to shelter for the night or direction to a free meal.

How many kits will you give out?

We got funding for 50, and I’m hoping that (the program) will be sustained by donations beyond that.

How important do you think these kits will be?

Having a kit full of these supplies is not going to resolve someone’s housing insecurity or poverty or any of these kind of huge issues. The hope is that it will make someone’s life easier for a week. And the resources inside will hopefully direct them to something that can more long term help them.

Volunteer Kit Packing Event

11 a.m. Saturday, May 11

South Philadelphia Library, 1700 S. Broad St.