In a room filled with tasty cheeses, crackers, snacks and sparkling mineral water, volunteers chatted and mingled. Occasional laughs — like grace notes — lit the air, briefly overshadowing the crowd noise in quick staccato bursts.
The volunteers were gathered last Sunday in a place they helped make a little better — the Elting Memorial Library.
Carol Roper, a former Elting Library board member and former New Paltz town supervisor, wore a name tag revealing her as board “alum.” She joked with friends. To her, the idea of recognizing the work of library volunteers makes a lot of sense.
“I think this is a great affair,” Roper said.
It might not be in the forefront of patrons’ minds as they walk through the green doors, but hundreds of volunteers help keep Elting running. Small groups of volunteers do handy work and gardening, maintaining the building and the grounds.
Others sort through books for the annual Elting Library Fair. Some set up chairs. Others come into the library during business hours, reshelving books or locating materials requested by other Mid-Hudson Library System branches.
Library director John Giralico admitted that special events like festivals would be virtually impossible without volunteers.
“There’s probably 100 people just for books at the library fair,” the director said.
Sudhir Kumar is a volunteer who helped set up Elting’s first ever celebration of the Indian holiday Diwali.
A “Festival of Lights” that takes place in October or November, Diwali celebrates the harvest in India and is one of the country’s biggest events. For Hindus, it’s about as important as Christmas, Easter and Mardi Gras combined. It honors the goddess Lakshmi, and it involves fancy dress, fireworks, bonfires, candy and a whole lot of fun.
“It’s one of the biggest festivals in India,” he explained.
Kumar had set up the 2013 festival mostly for the benefit of Indian students on campus at SUNY New Paltz, who might not be able to head home for the holiday. It ended up getting a lot of attention. He joked that the line to Diwali was longer than the line to get into P&G’s Restaurant on a Friday night.
“People responded in the hundreds,” he said. “Hundreds and hundreds came.”
Each year, cultural festivals held by the library — like the Mardi Gras masquerade or “Dia de los Muertos,” the Mexican Day of the Dead — require a lot of volunteer help. Volunteers make food or make decorations, put them up and set up for the party.
Bob Miller, a library board member, said it was pretty important to give back to those helpers.
“It’s just a way to thank the volunteers,” Miller said. “There’s so much going on it is impossible to work with just the staff we have.”
The library holds its volunteer recognition day annually.
If you’re interested in helping out at Elting, call them at 255-5030 or stop by at 93 Main Street at the front desk and ask about volunteering. To learn more about the library, head to www.eltinglibrary.org.