Toys are an often-overlooked source of resource waste and resource inequality – bought and discarded in large quantities by some families, prohibitively expensive for others. Toy libraries, found across the nation and world, use lending collections and community play spaces to address these issues while fostering a culture of sharing and social connections. Finger Lakes Toy Library (FLTL) was founded in 2016 to bring this system to Ithaca and the surrounding communities. In March 2017, FLTL received a Neighborhood Mini-Grant from Sustainable Tompkins to purchase essential equipment along with several toys themed on environmental stewardship.

Since then, FLTL has become a flourishing local presence, with dozens of member families and hundreds of new and donated toys that members can borrow and play with at its headquarters in Ithaca’s Clinton West Plaza. Its collection prioritizes environmentally-friendly, gender-neutral, and educational toys that encourage open-ended creativity. With a mobile set of toys, tent, and table, it has brought “Playtimes” — open to all, some with themes such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) or Puzzles and Games — to events such as the Apple Harvest Festival, and hosted them at venues throughout Tompkins County and beyond.

Participants testify to FLTL’s benefits:

“What an environmentally friendly way to provide new toys/experiences for our children without cluttering our homes up with things that our children have lost interest in and that might just end up in a landfill somewhere.” – Katie Feather, parent

“Such a great idea for saving money, living a minimalist lifestyle and having the opportunity to expose your child to new ways to play.” – Jennifer Wills, parent

“It costs hardly any money, and that’s good because then you have more money for the things you really need. Also, if you use toys over and over again, you don’t have to make new ones to replace the old ones. That’s good because gas is needed to run the machines in the factory and stuff like that. So if you’re not making new toys you use less gas. And that’s important because gas goes into the air and pollutes it.” – Julia Kleinberg, second grader at Fall Creek Elementary

In the years ahead, FLTL will continue to expand and diversify its toy collection and Playtime offerings. Visit its website to learn more about events, membership, and how you can support it.

The Neighborhood Mini-Grant Program provides seed money to diverse initiatives to build environmental, economic, and social resilience and well-being in Tompkins County. In turn, we need your support! Please donate today and help us support more wonderful citizen-driven projects to improve life in our community.  Special thanks to our sponsors: Park Foundation, Beck Equipment, Fingerlakes Wealth Management, Natural Investments, and Craig Riecke!