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News / Health / Clark County Health

FISH of Vancouver now feeds hungry bodies and minds by offering free books

Cookbooks, books for children especially popular

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 1, 2024, 6:05am
4 Photos
&ldquo;We feed bodies but we also want to feed minds,&rdquo; said FISH of Vancouver board President Katlin Smith of the pantry&rsquo;s new free library. Book donations are always welcome, she said.
“We feed bodies but we also want to feed minds,” said FISH of Vancouver board President Katlin Smith of the pantry’s new free library. Book donations are always welcome, she said. (Scott Hewitt/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

For well over half a century, nonprofit agency FISH of Vancouver has worked to feed hungry bodies with free food.

Now, FISH has launched a side effort to feed hungry minds, too. Free used books are the latest nourishment on shelves at the pantry on Harney Street in downtown Vancouver. Clients can borrow the books — or just take them.

“You don’t have to give it back. It’s free,” FISH board President Katlin Smith reassured several curious book browsers one morning this week.

She had particular success gifting “See You Later, Alligator,” a board book with build-in finger puppet, to fascinated toddler Carly Martinez-Torres.

Carly was riding around in the crook of her father Salvador’s arm. Salvador Martinez-Torres’ English is limited, but he smiled and gave thanks for the healthy present for his child.

The children’s bookshelf is near the entry door of the FISH pantry — perfectly positioned to keep potentially wiggly kids from melting down while their parents make the rounds for groceries and other goodies.

“Kids used to come in here with nothing to do, after waiting in line with their parents outside,” Smith said. “Now they can go straight to the bookshelf.”

In another room, a shelf of cookbooks provides culinary training and tips for any fledgling chef who wants them. That’s in keeping with the pantry’s overall mission, Smith said, which is to help people eat well.

“It’s just a little additional thing we want to do,” Executive Director James Fitzgerald said. “Why not make somebody’s day even better with a book?”

Book donations of any kind are welcome for FISH’s free in-house bookshelves, Smith said, but best of all are books for children. Approximately one-third of FISH’s always-growing clientele — which is currently around 150 to 200 families per day — are younger than 18, and those young minds are often just as hungry for intellectual stimulation as they are for food, she said.

“Reading helps kids get ready for school. Reading together creates an emotional bond with parents,” Smith said. “But a lot of families don’t have any books.”

If you have used books in good condition to donate, contact FISH of Vancouver via fishvancouver.org or bring your donation directly to the pantry at 906 Harney St., between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays only.