Toy Libraries Are Building Communities — and Keeping Toys Out of Landfills

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Philadelphia’s East Falls neighborhood is now the lucky home of the new eco-friendly Rutabaga Toy Library, where members can check out playthings instead of books — and make real connections with neighbors they might not have met otherwise.

It’s one of numerous toy libraries across the country: Austin, Minneapolis and Los Angeles all have toy libraries. The Los Angeles County Toy Loan Program is the oldest continuously operating toy library, according to The Atlantic. It was founded in 1935. Toy libraries have also cropped up across the globe, like the Stonnington Toy Library in Malvern, Australia.

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Still, many communities are without toy libraries — and that’s regrettable.

The Philadelphia toy library boasts an array of 350 toys in a sunny, 1,000-square-foot space carpeted with soft rugs. There are xylophones, dump trucks, pretend lawn mowers and various activity sets — all aimed at the 6-years-old and under set. To “check out” a toy to take home for up to 30 days, families must sign up for the Rutabaga member program. (Memberships are $35 a month for one child and $10 additional for each sibling). The facility also offers more inexpensive rates for long-term memberships.

The toy library in Philadelphia had its soft opening in October, but the owner, Krystal Cunillera, had been mulling over the idea for several years.

I wanted parents to meet their village and have people around the corner who could help them out,” Cunillera said to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I really don’t know what I would’ve done without my first Mama tribe — it made parenthood so much easier to have people to check in with.”

Cunillera heard about a toy library in Austin, Texas, and contacted the owner to get more details. The conversation convinced Cunillera that Philadelphia needed a toy library too.

“I just hate the idea of throwing perfectly fine toys into the landfill,” Cunillera told the Inquirer. “Children, especially between ages 1 and 3, cycle through toys quickly because they’re developing really fast. To be able to get a toy, just like a book from the library, and teach my kids to care for it, made so much more sense.”

Cunillera said it was her own sense of postpartum isolation that mobilized her: “With my first kid, I was traveling wherever I could for meetups to help avoid feeling isolated. After my second kid, I started to notice a lot more parents in my actual neighborhood, but still [there was] a lack of opportunities to connect.”

Philadelphia parents have responded enthusiastically to the Rutabaga Toy Library, which offers art and music classes as well as yoga.

One father and Rutabaga member, Andrew Piccone, also spoke with the Philadelphia Inquirer. He said of his daughter June, 21 months, “It’s a natural kid paradise with all of the toys and the friends she gets to play with. This is such a catalyst for meeting new people as an adult too, when it’s hard to make friends or even meet your neighbors.”

On Twitter, parents frequently praise toy libraries for the economic sense they make — but many worry about funding:

The USA Toy Library Association (USATLA) promotes the creation and assistance of toy libraries across the country. The association’s website states that toy libraries “offer an important dimension to America’s educational program by providing another environment of abundant play opportunity, supplemented by a collection of high-grade toys” and serve as a “forum of discussion among parents, teachers, and others.”

The USATLA also points out that toy libraries can provide caregivers with critical direction in child development, as well as “affirm values of honesty and sharing among children in all walks of life.”

You can check out the USATLA website to locate the nearest toy library in your area. What are you waiting for? Who knows, maybe you’ve got a hidden gem right around the corner.

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