Denver Toy Library struggles to replace its stock

The Northwest Denver Toy Library, located in the basement of Smiley Branch Library, 4501 West 46th Avenue, has been letting pint-sized library-card holders borrow toys for free since 1980. But lately it's been harder than ever to do so, thanks to new federal restrictions on the amount of lead and other harmful chemicals allowed in toys.

Late last year, in order to keep up with the new standards, the all-volunteer toy library contacted the manufacturers of all 475 of its toys to see if their items made the cut. At the time, volunteers estimated that up to three-quarters of their toys wouldn't survive the scrutiny and would have to be culled.

It turns out they were optimistic. Only about 15 percent of the library's toys were deemed safe enough to be kept.

Fortunately, as a result of donation efforts, the library's selection is already on the mend. According to toy library coordinator Margie Herlth, the operation, open to kiddos on Tuesdays from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Thursdays from 11 a.m. to noon and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon, is up to around 200 toys. But it has a long way to go.

Those wanting to help out with the effort are encouraged to drop off new, unopened toys at Smiley (anytime the branch is open is fine). Herlth says the toy library is especially interested in board games, cars, trucks and boats, although any donation is appreciated -- as long it comes with a receipt showing it was purchased later than September 2009. That part is key, since it indicates the product meets current safety standards.

In the meantime, the toy library will continue to plug along. "We do not plan on closing," says Herlth. "After being open for thirty years, we don't want to close."

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner