Central’s Sterling library gives children food for mind, body

The Sterling Branch of Cleveland Public Library was recently featured in The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com for its role as a vital resource for the children of the Central community. Located at 2220 East 30th street, Sterling library is a home away from home for many children in Central. More from Cleveland.com:

Security guard Sam Darden keeps watch outside as children head to the library after school. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)
Security guard Sam Darden keeps watch outside as children head to the library after school. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)

The mission of libraries has changed: Once focused on feeding minds, they now feed souls, and stomachs, too. 

At close to 3:30 on a recent Wednesday afternoon, uniformed children run around the grounds of Marion Sterling Elementary School, releasing pent-up energy from a long day of classes. School has been in session for just over two weeks, and summer freedom is fresh in their minds. 

Soon, the students gather into small groups of friends and cross East 30th street, just south of Olde Cedar, a CMHA housing project. Security guard Sam Darden stands on the steps of the Sterling Branch of Cleveland Public Library and greets them. Spending time at the library is a routine that is fixed and familiar all summer, after school, on weekends, and during school breaks. 

Most of the children head to the community room, where they know they’ll get an after-school meal. There is some pushing and shoving in line among the rambunctious group as library branch manager Monica Rudzinski records each student’s name for The Cleveland Food Bank’s Kids Cafe, which sponsors the food program. 

“Libraries aren’t just about information anymore,” says Rudzinski, wiping down a table to get it ready for the next wave of students. “We are about helping the community get the services they need.” 

The library finds lots of ways to nourish their young patrons. Members of the Cleveland Orchestra have played at the library. Area artists donate time to help students explore different ways to be creative. Cleveland State students offer tutoring help. 

“Part of the history and tradition of this branch — caring for children — has always been what Sterling is about,” said Rudzinski. “I sensed it when I came here five years ago. You feel it, and you continue it.” 

Children's librarian Angela Csia helps a student navigate a notebook on a Tech Tuesday at the Sterling branch of the Cleveland Public Library. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)
Children’s librarian Angela Csia helps a student navigate a notebook on a Tech Tuesday at the Sterling branch of the Cleveland Public Library. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)

She says children are waiting at the door when the library opens on weekends. 

“Some will come in here on a Saturday and tell me they have a headache,” she says. “Right away I think, ‘Do they need glasses?’ But we know the kids are just hungry. So we get big bags of cereal for not much money, and we can feed them on the weekend. There might be an ice cream truck that comes around in the summer, so we will buy them ice cream treats. Just impromptu things like that, other kids might take for granted. But there is no ice cream store anywhere near here.” 

Angela Csia, children’s librarian, says that at their 6,500-square-foot branch, they give out lunches every weekday, 10,000 a year. “They never taught that in grad school,” she says. 

“These kids have a certain numbness, I don’t think ‘war zone’ is an exaggeration,” she says, her eyes tearing up. “Recently, at 5 p.m., in broad daylight, a 32-year-old man was shot and killed just down the street. It’s a busy intersection. Some kids were witnesses. Student after student came in to tell us about it, and they said it matter-of-factly, with no emotion. Imagine what it does to your body and your psyche to have to be on constant alert.” 

She looks over the students now in the library. It is nearing 5 p.m., and most of the kids don’t look like they plan to leave any time soon. “It’s one thing not to have food or a cell phone, but if you don’t feel safe, or don’t feel like you can sleep,” she shakes her head, knowing that is the case with many of these children. But, she says, she is glad that the library and the staff can provide a safe space that the youths can count on every day. 

“It isn’t about books,” she says. “It’s about relationships and caring.”

Read the full story from Cleveland.com and see more photos here.

Sterling library and Woodland library, located at 5806 Woodland Ave.) offer free tutoring. Get dates and details here.