3 Great Ideas for Food for Fines

Food for Fines photo credit: Lester Public LibraryIf your library does Food for Fines — letting customers pay down overdue fees by donating boxed or canned food and/or personal care items — or you're thinking of starting it, these responses to an ALA Think Tank Facebook group post are ideas you can use:

1. Timing:

• We're doing ours this month because school is out and the free lunches at school aren't available for the kids. Its been very successful. ... We used the donated food as a display inside the front door.
• We do ours Nov 1 through Dec 31, but from my experience with working for a food bank, they really need the most help during the non-holiday months (spring, summer).
• We picked February because we were told that many people donate in November and December and by late February they are running low.

2. Pet food for fines:

We held a Pet Food For Fines program this summer to kick off our sign up week for our Paws to Read SRP. We partnered with a local animal shelter to find out what their biggest needs were, and then assigned fine forgiveness prices to each item that patrons could donate. Bigger items were worth more, such as a cat bed, while smaller items, such as a can of food, was worth less. It was pretty successful and a nice incentive for the animal shelter, as well as our patrons who were able to clear off their fines before starting SRP.
Here's what our board approved:
» One bag of dried pet food: $5
» One can of dog food: $2
» Two cans of cat food: $2
» One box of dog or cat treats: $4
» One bag of kitty litter: $5
» One cat bed: $7
The rescue we worked with was not picky as to brands, so we did not have to specify. Be sure to check with the shelter you plan to partner with, though, because sometimes they only accept particular brands due to food allergies/keeping animals on the same diet/etc. It was great...good luck!

3. Alternatives to collecting items onsite:

• I actually prefer a slightly different idea so that you don't get expired cans of corn. In the past we asked for folks to put their fine money in donation box, jar etc or special envelope and then we sent the funds over to the local pantry - no arguing that 1 box of cheerios was = to 20 dollars of late fees. The Food pantry was delighted to have the $$ and most patrons were happy to write larger checks to the food pantry than to the Town which actually received the fine $!
• ... the $ worked better in ours b/c the Food Pantry could purchase what they needed at the time - sometimes they had a lot of elderly so food and depends and sometimes families with small kids so baby food diapers etc or on occasion men who needed razors, shaving cream etc. it is a nice idea for the library to show community spirit however you do it.

If you want info on starting a Food for Fines program at your library, read the Marketing Library Services article 'Food for Fines' Drives: Positive PR That Works! to get helpful hints; the article's author says,

Food for Fines is an easy, inexpensive program that any library can benefit from. For a minimal outlay in staff time and a negligible loss in income, the library reaps enormous returns in public relations, staff morale, circulation statistics, and lost-item recovery.

And here are a few examples of Food for Fines programs:

Photo credit: "Food for Fines" by Lester Public Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0