After spending a day at Fields to Families — a Charleston charity that collects fresh produce from farmers and distributes it to the needy — volunteer coordinator Tina Arnold pulled me aside and said, “If you really want to meet someone doing good things, you should go to the soup kitchen here and ask to meet “The Librarian.” That’s all she said, but I could tell by the look on her face that everything would be explained to me once I got there.
Laura The Librarian had just gotten back from the dentist when I arrived, her mouth still swollen. Needless to say, pronouncing “biblioteca assistant” when recalling a job she had held many years earlier wasn’t easy. But Laura is no stranger to doing things that aren’t easy.
For five years now, she’s been coming to Neighborhood House (a branch of Our Lady of Mercy) almost every day to take care of its humble “library” — a place where those less fortunate can have a place to sit and read. Since her arrival, she has carefully labeled and categorized hundreds of books that have been donated by people around Charleston under the still-confusing Dewey Decimal System.
“Sometimes people take them, sometimes they bring them back” Laura says, filing away a 1992 copy of Time magazine. “As far as I’m concerned, if someone likes a book so much they keep it, then they deserve it.”
Her reasoning, patience, and generosity have served her well over the years, and she’ll be the first to tell you that she’s lived a blessed life. Born to a nuclear physicist father and a painter mother, she spent a big part of her early life splitting time between New York’s Lower East Side and Europe, where she modeled. After that, she earned a bachelor’s degree in communication, and launched a career making music videos “before they ever started on MTV.”
Now 51, Laura still has a gleam in her blue eyes. When an older woman walks out on to the porch, she is quick to pull up a rocking chair for her to sit on.
“I come here, truly, for my own self worth” she says. “It’s just a way of me saying ‘thank you’ to Our Lady of Mercy for everything they do.”
And what they’ve done is quite a bit.
They’ve served free lunch to Charleston’s homeless for more than three decades.
They’ve driven those less fortunate around to places they couldn’t get to by bus.
They’ve turned a garage into a free clothing store for the needy.
And when Laura says it’s her “way of saying ‘thank you,'” she means it.
Because Laura fits into all three of those categories: homeless, less-fortunate, and in need.
But that doesn’t stop her from keeping the library in top form.
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