Rutabaga Toy Library is Philly’s home base for sustainable parenting and play
Rutabaga Toy Library offers parents access to toy borrowing, communal play sessions, eco-friendly workshops, and more.
Rutabaga Toy Library is changing the game in sustainable parenting.
Owner Krystal Cunillera opened her business in November 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Fed up with the wastefulness of parenting and lack of family-oriented community, she had begun organizing family meetups in her neighborhood of East Falls while learning about low-waste lifestyle alternatives for parents. “I realized that I wanted a change,” says Cunillera. “I wanted to feel good about what I did for a living and I wanted to help others. But I also needed and wanted to work.”
She began storing her children’s toys, hoping to donate or exchange them with other moms. Her lightbulb moment came in 2017 after she read an article about a toy library in Austin, Texas. The library allowed parents to donate and borrow toys in order to reduce waste and spend less money while accessing a communal play space. “My mind was blown,” she says. “Sharing resources, keeping plastic junk from landfills, and helping to declutter our row homes – YES!”
How the Rutabaga Toy Library works
At Rutabaga Toy Library, parents sign up for monthly memberships to gain access to a massive inventory of toys that can be borrowed for up to 4 weeks at a time. In addition, the store offers meetups, play sessions, workshops, and more for children and parents.
If you’re worried about the idea of sharing toys in a pandemic, you can rest easy. Rutabaga takes cleaning very seriously, carefully inspecting, deep cleaning, and sanitizing each toy before allowing it to be borrowed again. And while some activities have been halted to preserve COVID safety, others have been moved online or outdoors.
Sustainability is key to Rutabaga’s model. “A large portion of our inventory, and our library furnishings, are second-hand. Rutabaga also curates a monthly Eco-Play Activities guide for our members, which gives grownups eco-friendly ideas for arts and crafts projects with their little ones.” Rutabaga even offers low-waste birthday parties. “We provide all the necessary supplies to throw a party — dishware, cloth napkins, and decorations — so families can celebrate without creating much waste.”
The pandemic and beyond
While the pandemic hit just months after Rutabaga Toy Library opened its doors, Cunillera saw a silver lining. At first, the toy library was going unused as families opted more for communal activities. “We stepped back and took a look at how the space was being used…. We didn’t have a lot of people that were taking advantage of the library portion. So the pandemic was a chance to focus on the library. The downtime gave us time to go through our inventory. We went from about 300 toys to about 1200.” Since reorganizing and expanding the library’s inventory, the number of families accessing it has increased greatly. The toy borrowing program offers endless entertainment for kids stuck with remote schooling and social distancing.
Cunillera is excited to see what the future holds for Rutabaga Toy Library. At the moment, she is looking for ways to make the toy library more accessible to lower-income families. “We realize that being sustainable and eco-conscious is a privilege and we’re working hard to figure out a way to provide our services to low-income families.” Rutabaga offers a scholarship fund for memberships which is currently taking donations. They also accept donations of high-quality toys in good condition.
Cover photo courtesy Krystal Cunillera