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Photo: Wing. 
A Virginia school district has been using Wing, a drone service owned by the parent company of Google, to deliver books to students during the pandemic.

I love stories about the determination of librarians to get books to people no matter what the odds. You may have read my bicycle-library post, camel-library post, library-on-horseback post, or the 2020 post about a book bus in Kabul, here. You can’t keep a good librarian down.

The story today is about book delivery by drone. Marie Fazio writes at the New York Times, “Last week, Deanna Robertson and her two sons stood on their front lawn in western Virginia scanning the sky for a drone they could hear humming from almost a mile away.

“When it finally arrived, hovering above their heads, the boys rushed forward to take what it offered: a copy of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’ required summer reading and possibly the first library book delivered by drone in history.

“With students unable to make it to the library because of the coronavirus, the Montgomery County Public School district has partnered with Wing, the drone-delivery unit of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, to deliver books to their homes. One week into the project, there have been more than 35 successful deliveries, said Kelly Passek, a middle-school librarian and the mastermind of the project. …

“Students living in Wing’s four-mile delivery zone in Christiansburg can use a Google form to request a specific book or ask Ms. Passek to choose one she thinks they would like. Around 600 Montgomery County students live within the delivery footprint.

After pulling a book from the library shelf and making sure it weighs less than three pounds, Ms. Passek packages the book and brings it to Wing’s office in Christiansburg. The drone takes over from there.

“It flies to a delivery site, lowers the book on a cable and releases the grip as it hits the ground.

“The students can borrow multiple books and do not have to return them until they go back to school in the fall. …

“Keith Heyde, the head of Virginia operations for Wing, said the company had completed thousands of deliveries for requests like Walgreens over-the-counter medications and cold brew from local coffee shops. The drones, which have a wingspan of 3.3 feet and weigh 10.6 lbs., can carry packages around three pounds up to speeds approaching 70 miles per hour, according to the company. They can fly 12 miles round trip.

“Ms. Passek was one of the first Christiansburg residents to receive a drone delivery when Wing began the program. Her first order, a Walgreens cough and cold care package, made her think of other uses for drones in the community, namely library books. She raised the idea with Mr. Heyde last fall, and revisited it with him when the coronavirus hit the United States.

“Book requests have been a mix of required summer reading and books of a student’s choice, Ms. Passek said. While Ms. Robertson’s 14-year-old son, Brendan, was assigned ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’ [Camden], 11, ordered John Grisham’s ‘Theodore Boon: Kid Lawyer’ to read for fun. …

“Since the coronavirus pandemic began, drones have been used in novel ways all over the world. In Britain, the police used drones to enforce social distancing. In Fairfield, Conn., they were used to monitor beach and parkgoers. An eager drone user in Queens broadcast a coronavirus safety message on his drone’s speakers as it flew over the streets of New York City. …

“Cold-brew coffees from a local coffee shop are particularly popular, Mr. Heyde said. Since the coronavirus, there has been a substantial increase per month in sign-ups for drone delivery, he said, but he believes the virus accelerated a pre-existing trend. … To the best of his knowledge, this is the first library book program by drone in history.

“ ‘If we can provide even one or two students with a resource they wouldn’t have access to otherwise because they wouldn’t be able to go to the library, that’s a win,’ he said.”

More here.

 

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Photo: Slung Low
The Slung Low theater group sorting out food parcels at their headquarters in Leeds, England.

Many companies and nonprofits around the world have been stepping up to meet new needs during the lockdown. This story is about an innovative UK theater delivering food to the hungry.

Ian Youngs reports at the BBC, “When you’re suddenly tasked with co-ordinating emergency food parcel deliveries to vulnerable local people during a pandemic, the ability to think creatively comes in useful. As artistic director of one of the UK’s most innovative theatre companies, Alan Lane is used to coming up with imaginative solutions.

“But they normally involve finding ways to stage epic community theatre shows, not making sure hundreds of people have the food and medicines they need in a lockdown.

” ‘Today we find ourselves with a Transit van full of crisps,’ he says on the phone from Leeds. … Yesterday we didn’t have any vegetables. And tomorrow we’re not going to have any eggs. So constantly I’m on the phone doing deals.

‘The other day, I swapped a load of tote bags that I got from the university for some face masks, which I split in half and swapped the other half for a lot of cream. …

“Six weeks ago, Lane and his company Slung Low were asked by Leeds City Council to co-ordinate the community response in Holbeck and Beeston, meaning any requests for help from the 10,000 households in the area have been passed to them.

“They are mainly from people needing food, but prescriptions need dropping off too, and they are often asked to just phone lonely people for a chat.

“Lane is in charge of around 90 volunteers, including some from the region’s other arts organisations — from Opera North and Yorkshire Sculpture Park to theatre company Red Ladder. …

“Managing them is not the only new role Lane has taken on during the pandemic. When not scrounging and delivering food, he has become a game show host, and a very entertaining one at that — appearing online every fortnight from Slung Low’s HQ to keep locals’ spirits up. …

“On top of that, he has launched an open-air art gallery, posting residents’ lockdown pictures on lampposts. And Slung Low has just made a short film — shot before coronavirus rewrote Lane’s job description — which went online on Friday.

” ‘We didn’t know this at the time, but having a short film to release at the moment is much better than having a play,’ he says.

“Except — he will be taking an enforced break from all that frenetic activity for a while. [A Covid-19 test] came back negative, but he has symptoms so is isolating and recovering. Others have stepped in to ensure Slung Low’s work goes on. …

“The connection with the local community is what sets Slung Low apart from other theatre companies and means it can adapt to doing things like delivering food during a crisis, Lane says.

“Other venues have been busy putting their shows online and continuing their education and outreach activities digitally, but Lane thinks they could be doing more with their facilities.

” ‘There are a lot of vans currently sat in the car parks of arts organisations because they couldn’t quite work out the insurance to get them doing food bank work,’ he says. … ‘We spend a lot of time talking about what we’re for at Slung Low. What we’re for is not putting on a show for people to pay for tickets.

” ‘[Putting on a show is] something we do quite a bit, and something that we can be quite good at on a good day. But it’s not what we’re for. And therefore, when you can’t do that, it doesn’t mean we stop.’ ” More at the BBC, here.

Although people in the arts may not be uniquely compassionate, they’re often among the first to demonstrate sensitivity to the needs of others. Still, gold stars for a city council that thought of asking for the theater’s help!

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We found a letter with a return envelope in a recent issue of our newspaper. The envelope wasn’t for a tip.

The newspaper delivery man was telling us, and his 629 other customers, a bit about himself and his work situation and asking how early we needed our papers.  He said that the delivery service for seven national and local papers was changing. Some some clients had always wanted their paper delivered before 5:30, but he was hoping people would let him know who could wait until 6:15. He told us he makes 7-1/2 cents per household. (I think there’s a song about 7-1/2 cents from the musical Pajama Game.) He referenced the cost of gasoline and car maintenance.

And then he told a story that is very common for generations of immigrants and Puerto Ricans (who are, of course, citizens but come to the mainland to provide a better life for their children).

“I am father to four children who are 11. 10, 6, and 4 … My wife and I decided to move to the Untied States 4 years ago finding a better quality of life for our family. I obtained my degree as a Licensed Electirician in Puerto Rico and my wife was a Nail Technician. When we arrived in the United States, we were faced with the hard reality that neither of our licenses were valid in the US. My wife and I decided to start our studies here, so that we can obtain once again our licenses and pursue a career in our field of study. Currently, in addition to my job as a Newspaper Delivery, I go to school every night — Monday through Thursday — and I have a second job, right after I finish newspaper delivery, as an electrician assistant, while my wife is both taking care of the children, and working as a Housekeeper at St Patrick Parish.

“Together, with hard work and dedication, we are able to cover all the expenses that come our way. We want to ensure that our children will learn by example to work hard to become self-sufficient and independent … . We hope God will provide us with good health and strength to be able to work each day so that our dreams can became a reality.”

Needless to say, I wrote him and said no hurry on the paper. My husband thought the letter really embodied what the season was about.

(I am always grateful for our comments. and if you tweet, consider following us @LunaStellaBlog1 on twitter.)

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