A library card can give children access to a variety of books that engage their imaginations. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, families can also use their library cards to borrow educational toys through an organization called Toy Lending Library of South Dakota.
Anelis Coscioni, executive director of the Toy Lending Library of South Dakota, was born in Brazil and worked as a veterinarian before coming to the United States to do research in California. She later traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and set out to help the community.
While volunteering with the Kiwanis club, she started researching the needs of the Sioux Falls community and learned about the need for educational toys.
“There are so many families in the downtown area that don’t have toys for kids to play and learn,” Anelis said. “Once you know about a need, it’s hard; you cannot put it down. You just need to do something.”
The Toy Lending Library began operation with Anelis’ help in 2015 at Kilian Community College in Sioux Falls. After the college closed, the Toy Lending Library moved with Health Connect, an organization that provides free health information and was sharing their space with the library.
To check out a box of toys, parents can visit the Siouxland Libraries’ locations or the Toy Lending Library office in the Park Ridge Center building. Boxes can be checked out for three weeks at a time. Each box contains toys, a book, an educational brochure for parents, a bookmark, and a survey.
The library currently has 358 boxes. Anelis said the library tries to create themed boxes; for example, one box contained toy trucks along with a picture book about trucks. The boxes are color-coded by age group so parents can choose a toy that is developmentally appropriate for their child. To help parents keep track of the toys, each box also contains a picture that shows which toys belong in the box. Anelis says that breaking and losing toys are a natural part of playtime, so families are not penalized for missing or broken items.
Between 2015 and 2017, the boxes were checked out 2,384 times.
After a box is returned, volunteers clean and sanitize the toys using a soap and bleach solution. They inspect the toys for any damage, and broken toys are discarded and replaced. Anelis and her team also check the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website regularly to check for recalled toys.
“The biggest learning development in anybody’s life is from zero to five,” Anelis said. “And that’s our goal. And our mission is to create opportunities for kids zero to five years old to enhance their learning and development through play. So we want to get them good quality educational toys for that age group.”
The library also has two boxes of sensory toys that are designed for children with special needs, and they hope to expand their collection of sensory toys in the future. To grow their collection, the Toy Lending Library of South Dakota receives donations of new or gently-used toys as well as monetary donations that can be used to purchase toys.
“We are all volunteers. All the funds we have go back to toys, boxes, materials, everything that we need to make it happen,” Anelis said. “We are always looking for volunteers to come and help us.”
When I asked Anelis what advice she would give to people who want to make a difference in their communities, she responded, “Just keep working. It will happen. That’s what happened to us. We started, we had nothing, no idea how to do this. We are learning every day how to do this better. But if you keep doing it, you are going to get better. You are going to learn more.”
For more information about the Toy Lending Library of South Dakota, you can visit toylendinglibrary.com.