Jackson County Public Library plans to help its patrons with overdue books and collect food for the hungry in the process.

From Sunday through Aug. 30, library patrons in Seymour, Crothersville and Medora will have the opportunity to pay overdue fines by donating nonperishable food. Those who use the library’s Discovery Bus must visit one of the three branches to drop off food.

All food collected will be donated to local food pantries at Human Services, Community Provisions and Anchor House in Seymour, Crothersville First Baptist Church and Medora Christian Church.

Paul Brock, director of Community Provisions, said the food it receives from the program is a blessing.

“This has a great impact,” he said. “Anytime someone helps us like this, it makes a difference because we are always needing food.”

For every dollar owed in fines, a person must donate at least one food item in order to have the fine waived. So if a patron has a $5 fine, at least five items must be donated to have the amount erased. A fine of $5.50 would require at least six food items.

Last year, the library collected 2,134 items and waived $2,089.38 in fines.

“We want to give people a chance to pay off their fines at a lower amount than what they actually owe,” said Julia Aker, director of JCPL. “It is also a way for us to support the community through the food pantries.”

Since the library began waiving overdue fines with collection programs in 1991, it has accepted 76,096 items. A total of $62,388.75 in overdue fines has been waived during the past 23 years.

In 2002, the library collected 366 supplies for Anchor House. In 2003, nearly 700 items were collected for the Humane Society of Jackson County. From 2004 until 2011, the library also collected school supplies for local schools.

“In 2012, we found out from the state board of accounts that we had to limit the amount of time we waived fines,” Aker said. “At that time, we were waiving for four weeks in July and August and four weeks from before Thanksgiving until mid-December.”

Since the United Way’s Stuff the Bus event was taking care of school supplies, the library decided to focus on Food for Fines for two weeks at the end of August when pantry donations typically run low.

The number of people who participate in Food for Fines varies year to year, from around 250 to more than 400, Aker said.

Those who have lost items on their account may not participate until all items are returned to the library undamaged. Collection agency accounts must pay a $10 fee first before they are eligible to waive late fees with Food for Fines.

Aker said there is no goal to how much they would like to collect.

“The ultimate goal would be for everyone with an overdue fine to take advantage of it, but that’s not likely to happen because most of the people with the highest fines we can’t get a hold of or they have moved,” she said.

The biggest year for the fine-waiving programs was in 2010 when the library collected 3,162 food items and waived $3,030.67 in fines. In addition that year, 5,693 school supply items were donated, resulting in $5,317.44 in fines being waived.

Aker said the library plans to notify all of its cardholders about the Food for Fines program through a mass email next week.

The program applies to all library materials, including movies and audio books, but does not apply to fines from other libraries that participate in the Evergreen Indiana Library system.

Aker said the library board has never been concerned with making up the money for what fines might have been paid.

“The goodwill far outweighs the income,” she said.

She also said the library collects more in overdue fines now that people can pay with credit and debit cards.

Individuals without library fines wishing to donate food items also may donate at the libraries.

Donated food items should not be expired, be in a rusty or dented can or be considered USDA commodities.

Aker said popular items to donate include peanut butter, jelly, soup, canned pasta, boxed macaroni and cheese, and hamburger/tuna helper mixes.

Crackers and canned vegetables, especially peas, also are needed, Brock said.

Although Community Provisions recently received a large donation of food from a local church, Brock said individual donations are down. He expects it to pick back up around the holidays.

The Food for Fines program will continue as long as there is a need, Aker said.

“I know the food pantries count on it,” she said.

At a glance

What: Food for Fines

Where: Jackson County Public Library branches in Seymour, Crothersville and Medora

When: Sunday through Aug. 30

How it works: For every dollar owed in fines, a person must donate at least one food item in order to have the fine waived. So if a patron has a $5 fine, at least five items must be donated to have the amount erased.

All food collected will be donated to local food pantries at Human Services, Community Provisions and Anchor House in Seymour, Crothersville First Baptist Church and Medora Christian Church.

Information: Seymour Library at 812-522-3412, Crothersville Library at 812-793-2927 or Medora Library at 812-966-2278

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.