April 3, 2020

Biological sciences undergrad shares the joy of reading with some of our city’s most vulnerable

Amanda Leong organizes charitable book drive for children at local housing shelter

Although busy university students mostly have time for reading textbooks instead of stories, Amanda Leong’s lifelong love of reading inspired her to share it with kids living at the Brenda Strafford Centre.

A biological sciences student in her third year of study, Leong is also on her second term as part of the communications team of the Science Ambassadors — a select group of student volunteers who make it their mission to build student community and champion science on campus through highly informative, free events like Puppy Therapy, the IDEAS Fund conference, and the Science Launchpad conference.

Beyond her role as a science ambassador, Leong volunteers at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, and with older kids and youth in other capacities. “Volunteering is very rewarding and a staple of my identity,” she says.

Reading is also an important part of Leong's identity.

“I was one of those kids who borrowed 20 chapter books from the library each week,” she says.

Increased demand for children's books

“Flash forward to today — school is out, and libraries are closed. As a Brenda Strafford Centre volunteer, I had the pleasure of getting to know the families first-hand, and was well aware that they lived in exceptional circumstances even before COVID-19. I also know that prior to COVID-19, families could borrow books via a weekly library visit to the shelter daycare.” 

However, with both daycares and libraries being closed, Leong wondered how the kids could maintain access to books. When the Strafford Centre’s volunteer newsletter mentioned that children’s books were indeed in demand, “I knew I had to do something!” she says.

To make sure the centre’s kids could keep up their reading, Leong organized a book drive for the shelter. The books were collected over the weekend of March 21-23, thoroughly disinfected with soap and water, and delivered to the shelter.

Extraordinary measures

“Book drives are traditionally a very social activity, but in light of the COVID-19 situation, we took extraordinary measures to ensure that the process was as sanitary as possible,” she explains. “Some sacrifices had to be made; for instance, we asked all donors to leave their books outside their front doors. We’re grateful that everyone was accommodating of this request.

"To respect social distancing, I regret that I couldn’t invite the other team members of my student organization, Operation Imagination, to physically join me for the donation pickups and drop-offs. However, they helped spread the word, and we ended up delivering about 70 gently used books and five unopened toy sets to the Brenda Strafford.”

Leong says the kindness of her peers was overwhelming, and she was humbled to realize that even during this crisis, people were willing to contribute this cause.

“During this challenging time, I’d like to stress that it’s important to take care of ourselves, as well as others,” she says. Many of my peers are hard on themselves for not being productive every moment of the day — but taking breaks is healthy and important. Personally, I’ve been practising self-care in between work sessions by going for walks, making pencil sketches, and catching up on some cleaning I’ve put off all semester.

"I’m also keeping in contact with my friends and family, since as Dr. Hinshaw mentioned, being physically apart doesn’t mean that we can’t get through this together.”

Books delivered to the Brenda Strafford Centre

Books delivered to the Brenda Strafford Centre

Leong sends her thanks to the following people for their support:

  • To those who donated books and toys, thank you for your kindness. It’s very much appreciated, and will keep kids entertained.
  • To the Operation Imagination team members who are dedicated to making a difference, thank you!
  • To the frontline health-care workers (including my mom) who selflessly commit their time and energy to helping Albertans, thank you.
  • To every community member who’s stepped up in this difficult time (including my dad, who’s been shoveling our neighborhood sidewalks every morning), thank you. 
  • To all the professors who’ve been accommodating to student needs, thank you.
  • Lastly, to Kathleen, Loriana, and Molly for continuously offering support to ambassadors, thank you!

UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.

For resources to support students, faculty, staff, alumni, and all our communities during this unprecedented time, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Community Support website.