Founded with banned books in a garage, Annie’s Foundation opens new office

Founded with banned books in a garage, Annie’s Foundation opens new office

Annie's Foundation members and supporters cut the ribbon for the group's new office space

By Nikoel Hytrek

April 2, 2024

A year ago, Sara Hayden Parris’s garage was packed haphazardly with books, banners, signs, and other supplies for Annie’s Foundation events. Now, because of a generous donation, those days are no more.

On March 28, Parris, board members, and supporters came out to cut the ribbon on a physical office space for Annie’s Foundation, at 5619 NW 86th St. in Johnston.

Funding for the two-year lease was provided by a donor who wanted to “make their dreams come true,” Parris said.

Annie’s Foundation—of which Parris is founder and president—is a Johnston-based nonprofit which gives away banned books and speaks across the state.

The new space will primarily be book storage for the group and a place to do administrative work. But people will be able to come during open hours (Sundays from noon-2 p.m.) to discuss book banning, take home banned books for themselves, and collect boxes full of books to stock Little Free Libraries.

This step is the latest sign Annie’s Foundation has taken off in Iowa.

“September of 2022 is really when we became active, and now we’ve handed out 5,100 books,” Parris, a Johnston parent, said.

Handing out books that have been banned in Iowa schools was initially the only goal for the group. Then librarians, organizers and booksellers from around the state started reaching out, asking the group to talk about their work and about the right-wing effort to ban books in Iowa.

“We just keep getting more and more invitations. We started thinking about it, and we were like, ‘We really need to start making more of an effort to get out to some of the smaller communities that might need us a little bit more,’” said Kaycee Rae Schippers, a Johnston parent who’s been with the group since its founding.

Book banning pushes in Iowa’s school and public libraries started in the fall of 2021, gained steam in 2022, and came to a head with a law passed in 2023 that prohibits books with vaguely defined “sex acts” being in Iowa public schools. (Book banning portions of the law are currently blocked because of a lawsuit in federal court.)

Johnston was a hotbed, partly because of active Moms for Liberty chapters and three school board members with ties to the group.

The city has also been a hotbed of pushback: In last year’s school board elections, four candidates with connections to Moms for Liberty were defeated, and Annie’s Foundation has only grown.

Parris said it’s been “surprising” to learn how many people aren’t aware of book banning happening at the state and local levels.

“We’re realizing that so much more of [the work] is also education and advocacy and helping people feel like they don’t have to accept book banning when it’s happening in their schools, and helping them feel confident in being able to identify it and address it when it does come up,” Parris said.

Having a physical location wasn’t an explicit goal. But when a donor reached out to ask what their dreams were—not digging through a garage to find materials was a big one—it all clicked into place.

“I was kind of surprised, because I think I’ve always been afraid to dream big,” Parris said.

Both have been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming support Annie’s Foundation has gotten. They’ve also been encouraged by the way Iowans have pushed back against book banning—which started because they wanted to protect their own children’s educations in Johnston schools.

“I’m not going to lie, there are times it gets really hard,” Schippers said. “It’s a lot of work, and there are times that people call us names and are not very nice to us, but we feel like we just have to keep fighting.”

She continued, “I just would love to be able to thank everyone who has supported us, because you’re helping make a difference just as much as we are—by propping us up and giving us the resources and the platform that we need.”

Parris said it’s also rewarding to hear from people who have been impacted, and who have thanked the group for advocating for books that make them feel seen.

“Our mission statement has always been to ensure that people have easy access to diverse characters and books,” Parris said. “And I don’t know that we necessarily realized how important that was to so many people when we wrote the statement.”

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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