Jefferson County Library has been doing its part to help stock food pantries since 2005. That’s when it started accepting canned food items as payment for overdue books.
It’s the library’s "Food for Fines" amnesty program.
Every branch in the system takes part. On the last Friday of every month, each can of food is worth one dollar toward overdue fines. Each branch distributes the food to nearby food pantries.
In 2011, the libraries waved $7,860 worth of fines. That worked out to 8,728 canned food items collected and delivered to food pantries. That was an increase of more than 13 percent over the preceding year.
Library director Pam Klipsch said $7,860 doesn't amount to that big of a chunk from the library's budget.
“We charge fines to encourage people to bring books back in a timely manner,” she said. “Fines are something that go into our budget, but we don’t think of them as something to generate revenue for the library.”
She mentioned an added benefit as well.
“It can bring in books that otherwise might not have come in, and families can continue to use the library,” she said. “Sometimes people can’t pay their fines, especially kids, and we’ll come up with a way for them to pay, volunteer work for the library, whatever.”
She said these days, people really appreciate the opportunity to take part, and “I know the food pantries appreciate it. It’s just a small way we can help out the community, especially now, when times are so rough for people.”
Since 2005, the amount of cans brought in has increased 94 percent.
The next amnesty date is Friday, February 24.
The library does not accept home-canned items, cans that are past their expiration date or are dented or damaged, or cans with bar codes that have been lined or scratched through. All food collected is donated to local food pantries.