Food for Fines ends, collects donations for food pantries

Published 8:52 am Tuesday, January 7, 2020

DOWAGIAC — Over the past several months, Dowagiac District Library patrons have been trading their old fines for jars of pasta sauce, cans of beans and boxes of mac and cheese.

Though that may have ended over the weekend, organizers said they were able to help hundreds of Cass County residents through the process.

Saturday, the Dowagiac District Library’s annual Food for Fines program ended, collecting more than 40 boxes of food to be donated to food pantries across Cass County. Through the program, library patrons were able to erase late fees and fines incurred through overdue books. For every canned or non-perishable food item a patron brought in, they could delete $1 of debt. Ten items cleared all debts. The program ran from Nov. 25 to Jan. 4.

“It’s been really busy,” said Library Director Matt Weston about this year’s Food for Fines program. “Every day that we have been open, people have brought in cans.”

Since beginning three years ago, Weston said the Food for Fines program had grown more than he expected. He said this year had been one of the program’s most successful yet, bringing in nearly 40 boxes full of donations.

New this year, Weston said many people that did not need fines cleared brought in donations of food items. Those items were used to remove the debts of other library patrons.

“We keep a tally of how much extra we have at the front desk, so that way, when someone comes up to deal with fines, we can let them know that we can take care of them,” he said.

For the program, the library works with Feed the Hungry, a Dowagiac-led campaign that brings donations and mobile pantries to food pantries across Cass County.

Feed the Hungry representative Jim Allen said he was grateful for the donation from the library and the community members who participated in the Food for Fines program. Though the Feed the Hungry program primarily relies on monetary contributions sourced through its annual end-of-year campaign — which this year raised more than $30,000 — Allen said donations of non-perishable food items are just as important. Through the items collected by the Food for Fines, Allen was able to give out many boxes of food to local food pantries.

“[The Food for Fines Program] helped us a lot, and we were able to get a significant amount of food that way,” Allen said. “It gives our program a lot of credibility when the library, the city, the police, the firefighters and the chamber are behind us. It means a lot.”

Weston said he was glad the program was once again a success this year and able to help many in the community.

“This is a great way to work with the community,” he said. “It’s important for us to give back because the community gives to us. We are a public place, and we see a need. Many of our own patrons have a need [for access to food donations]. So, we and our other patrons are happy to help meet that need and help each other.”