Food for Fines: Win-win for Fairfield Library, food pantry
Updated 4:48 pm, Wednesday, February 23, 2011
One thousand and two food and toiletry items donated; 329 library materials returned.
That's the haul the Fairfield Public Library reaped in its Food for Fines program, in which patrons were asked to donate nonperishable food items and health and beauty aids for the Operation Hope food pantry. In return, the library retrieved overdue materials, such as books DVDs, CDs and audiobooks, and 122 patrons were able to knock off some debt in late fines.
Susan Balla, the senior circulation coordinator, said not only did the library want to help fill the shelves at the pantry run by Operation Hope -- which also manages a community kitchen, homeless shelters and transitional housing -- but it wanted to restock its own.
"I think the program was very successful. Our goal is to get back as many items as possible that patrons may have been reluctant to return because they were so overdue. As the same time, we were able to help the food pantry stock their shelves," she said.
The maximum in fines for DVDs per patron that was waived was $15 and $10 for books. Balla did not have a total dollar amount from the week-long program as the library was "more concerned with getting our material back than we were with fines." She added in an e-mail on Tuesday, "If anyone brought in an overdue item that had reached the maximum, they would still get that entire fine removed by bringing in one food or health-care item."
As for the volume of donations, Balla said the majority of people "were very generous. They gave more than they needed to," adding that there were others who did not have overdue materials but just wanted to help out.
The program, which began on Valentine's Day and concluded on Feb. 20, started out slowly, she said, but picked up as the week wore on. The library conducted a similar food drive two years ago that also was successful. "The library likes to partner with other organizations," she said, "because we are part of the community."
Although the program ended, Balla noted that a few more donations were received Tuesday that will be delivered to the food pantry. The first batch of donated goods was sent to the pantry, 636 Old Post Road, on Friday morning; the remainder on Tuesday.
Balla said the library may conduct the program again in the future, but no definite plans have been made. She and other staff members will discuss what worked this year and what didn't.
Calling the drive a "brilliant idea," Carla Miklos, the executive director of Operation Hope, said library officials approached her about conducting it. "We couldn't have been happier. We are lucky to have such a fine library system." Getting the library's donations is especially important now, she added, because some of the shelves at the pantry are bare. "We are in a lean period of time," said Miklos.
On a brief tour of the pantry Friday afternoon, Miklos pointed out that some of the staples are nearly depleted, such as canned tuna, soup, pasta and tomatoes, rice and macaroni and cheese. Asked where the library's donated items were being kept, Miklos said, "They probably already are on the shelves."
When she started her job three years ago, the pantry provided 80,000 meals that year; in 2010, 115,000 meals, she said. "The need has increased each year," she added.
And she doesn't see it subsiding. Donation programs like the library's, she said, allow for a steady stream of food and toiletries. "I have always liked the idea of bringing food to your meeting or your party or your bridge club. You're meeting anyway, so make it the price of admission. If a company or organization set up a receptacle with a poster asking for donations, people are always looking for ways to help."
For a list of the items -- large and small -- that are needed, visit www.operationhopect.org/help.