We began volunteering for Philadelphia’s Cradles to Crayons in literally the first shift we could schedule when we started homeschooling. I wanted the kids to be doing service work within their city, and understanding more about poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and addiction, as these things can be part of the conversation of our everyday lives for a variety of reasons. Volunteering is not just a way to help others, but a way for both of my kids to help explore their own narratives — in the time before they were “ours”, in gaining a mutual “opt-in” older brother when they were four and five, and to give them the understanding that they are agents of change in their own lives, and in their own communities.
I cannot say enough good about Cradles to Crayons. We loved it from the very first shift. Béla is very independent in the warehouse, and will dash off to help push a trolley or rolling cart or replace bin liners — he likes to stay active. Recently, so that the adults could avoid reaching repeatedly into a very deep box, Béla just stood at the bottom of it, handing things up and out.
Claudia can get very thoughtful about sorting items, and particularly likes to look at the girls’ clothing. She will remark on how happy a little girl might be to get a certain dress, or will work hard to match up outfits and choose accessories like belts to go in clothing packs.
The first day we worked at the station called “Toy Mountain”, however, Claude was a little dismayed. “Mom,” she said, showing me the large bag of Barbie-style dolls she had been asked to sort. They were spread across the table, perhaps thirty dolls. Only one was black.
First, she wanted to donate all of her own black Barbies to Cradles to Crayons. But she does play with them a lot, and some were gifts from special people. I told her that we would make an effort at some point to buy some dolls of color and give them to Cradles to Crayons, or that she could try to think of a way to raise money so that she could buy some brand new ones still in the boxes.
As weeks went by, Claude was also frustrated by the shortage of a few other items. While there is SO MUCH to do at the warehouse — and it is exciting to see the big bags and think that they will all be in the hands of kids who need them before we are even there again — a few things just tend to get donated less frequently than others. Snow boots was one. Pajamas are also an issue, as at C2C, only new — not formerly-loved or -worn — pajamas can be given out.
Claudia had been working, for a while, on an art project. We had found a company called Picture This Clothing that would put a child’s artwork on a dress, and even on a dress for an 18″ doll. We had printed out MANY copies of the dress template, as Claude was ebbing and flowing with frustration and inspiration with her own work. She had been drawing the goddess Athena. Originally, it had been Athena killing Pallas, but that seemed a bit complicated for a dress. When she concentrated on Athena, things improved, but a lot of tweaking was still happening. Tucker was helping, and continuing to find her more and different images of Athena on the internet.
In the course of one drawing session, they found a photograph of a statue of Athena, in which her hair seemed to be styled in tight, intentional curls. This image caught Claudia’s attention in particular, and with each consecutive drawing, Athena’s facial features became less ethnically ambiguous, until the final draft — Claudia proudly announced, she’d gotten it! — where Athena was, definitively (said Claudia) of African descent.
It was so beautiful.
(Claudia’s ability to express great emotion in linework had presented itself concurrently in a tiny worksheet frame, where she had been prompted to “draw adversity”):
She was excited about the idea of the dress being made (along with one for her doll) as her “big” birthday gift at the end of February… but, let us not forget, we are a household that contains (along with an original wood-case Super Pac-Man arcade machine and fourteen-foot, goat-bird hybrid puppet) a working, iron handprinting press.
We had her drawing transferred to a magnesium cut on a type-high wooden base, as we have done with artwork since before the kids came, and for their arrival announcements, and — as can be seen above, showing the last time the press had been used — the poster for Krampuslauf Philadelphia/Parade of Spirits 2012.
Claudia’s birthday came, and so did her Black Athena dresses. (It’s nice when you have creeper-soled, silver gladiator sandals to throw on with your Athena dress.)
We put a “product page” up on our business’ website…
And here’s Claudia at work, printing. Every print she makes and sells is, to her, a doll, or a set of pajamas — and a little left over for the next doll or pajamas!
And here’s Béla serving as her “printer’s devil”, or assistant.
An early print. Beautiful. They were very independent and they are doing great work!
She will begin signing, titling and numbering later this week, and we strongly suggest that if you would like a print (or just wish to support Claudia’s venture to bring more dolls of color and brand new, spring-and-summer pajamas to kids in need through Cradles to Crayons) that you order soon! We will update on the progress of this venture as it moves into its next stages.