COLUMBIA CITY — On the day that Krista Layman came into Parkview Whitley Hospital to talk with IN|Whitley County about the Kate’s Kart organization, the Timehop feature on her phone reminded her that exactly seven years ago to the day, Parkview Whitley received its first book cart, painted bright pink and boasting a wide selection of books for kids of all ages.
The Kate’s Karts story begins, of course, with Kate Layman, Krista and her husband Andy’s third child. When she was born in 2006, it was discovered that she was missing a pulmonary artery. This began a year-and-a-half ordeal until Kate’s passing in 2008.
After Kate’s death, the Layman family found itself searching for a way to keep their daughter’s memory alive. Remembering the long, often scary trips to the hospital, the Laymans decided to find a way to make that experience easier and a little less scary for other kids.
“After living life in the hospital and experiencing that, we wondered, how can we encourage others?” Layman said. “In the ERs, people are scared they don’t think to pack something when frantically rushing. We wanted to create a comforting diversion.”
Enter: Kate’s Kart. A mobile bookshelf that could be set up in an emergency room or pediatric ward, filled with picture books, chapter books and crayons, simple things that could immediately change a child’s outlook of the situation at hand.
Parkview Whitley Hospital was one of the first hospitals to partner with Kate’s Kart, and in that time the hospital has seen firsthand the amount of comfort, and even joy, this hot pink cart has brought to numerous children entering the emergency department.
“When kids arrive to the emergency department, they are normally scared,” Michelle McNeil, medical/surgical/coronary care unit manager for Parkview Whitley, said. “It is great to see how a book from Kate’s Kart can make a crying or nervous child relax enough to smile and giggle again.”
What started out as a few tubs of books bought with money from Kate’s memorial fund and placed at a few local hospitals, soon caught on and Kate’s Karts began rolling into even more local hospitals. Today, there are 29 Kate’s Karts in 20 northeast Indiana hospitals.
As this growth continues, the Laymans and Kate’s Kart have further defined its mission, choosing to grow “radially,” by expanding the circle around its Fort Wayne hub as opposed to dropping carts sporadically across the country. Layman added that she wants to work primarily with smaller community hospitals.
Giving out an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 books per month, Layman noted, Kate’s Kart spent $100,000 on books alone last year. Thankfully, the organization has received support from wholesale book providers like Scholastic and Amazon, offering discounted rates for bulk orders. However, it is not uncommon for Krista and other volunteers to raid the shelves of local retail stores to add to their collection.
What has truly fostered Kate’s Karts’ success, though, are the communities that have rallied around them to collect money and brand-new books to add to the shelves.
“We don’t want to go into the community and not get any support,” Layman said. “The key with any growth is if there is a true partnership in that community.”
Churubusco Elementary School has been a longtime supporter of the cause, organizing an annual book collection and fundraising drive in the second-grade classrooms during the holiday season. Before their annual collection, Layman has made a point of stopping by to tell Churubusco second-graders about Kate’s Kart and to give them a collection goal. From there, students and their teachers bring in new books and donations in hopes that they will brighten up the day of another kid.
“It just gives them a feeling that they’re being helpful to somebody and they’re not just thinking of themselves,” Mary Ray, second-grade teacher at Churubusco Elementary, said. “I think that’s the biggest part of it. For so many kids at this age it’s ‘me, me, me.’ This is a way to show they need to help others who are hurting.”
More than a decade after the original idea was thought up, Layman is more than satisfied with the legacy she and the organization have built for her daughter and the hope she has brought to so many families that are going through similar experiences.
“What’s been really humbling is that families are emailing us,” Layman said. “They tell us they still have their Kate’s Kart books and that it reminds (them) of when (their) child beat cancer, or when they were two pounds and they weren’t sure if they were going to make it. It was a nice diversion.”