Jefferson County (MO) Library uses Food for Fines program to support local community

On July 25th, I Love Libraries conducted an interview with Pam Klipsch, Director of the Jefferson County (MO) Library. Jefferson County is located just south of St. Louis, currently serving a population of 131,842 in northern Jefferson County.  Ms. Klipsch and her library staff run a monthly Food for Fines program in which they forgive up to one dollar in fines for every can of food donated to the library.

The effect on the library’s community has been overwhelmingly positive and has offered Jefferson County’s community members opportunities to give back and benefit from the generosity of their neighbors and friends. Jefferson County is of course one of many libraries that run a food for fines or similar program. In November 2010, we ran a similar story about the Marion County Library which you can read here.

“It is an American tradition for neighbors to help neighbors. That’s how we survive hard times, by all pulling together.”

 “For every can of food donated, the library waives up to one dollar in overdue fines,” says Klipsch. “All the food collected is donated to local food pantries.

“We’re a pretty spread out county, so each of our three branches has identified food pantries in their own service areas, and that’s where the food goes every month. There is no limit on the number or amount of fines that can be cleared, but bills for lost or damaged library items, or fines or bills for items that have been borrowed from other libraries outside Jefferson County, are not eligible for the Food for Fines program. The library does not accept home-canned items, cans that are past their expiration dates or are dented or damaged, or cans with bar codes that have been lined or scratched through.”

Klipsch says the program started in 2005 after she arrived as director.  “I had been involved in setting up Food for Fines holiday food drives at two previous libraries where I worked, so it was one of the projects I wanted to start here. At first we ran it for several weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Later, after talking to people at some of the food pantries, we realized that there was a great need for food donation all year round, so we made it a monthly program. This occurred just before the recession hit in 2008. A lot of families in our county have been very hard hit by the recession and still are; this project just struck a chord with the community. Our annual donations have basically doubled since 2008. Since then many other local organizations and businesses have started hosting food donation events. I like to think that we helped show them the way.

The library now runs the program for a full day on the last Friday of each month. The amount of food they receive each month varies, says Klipsch, “but the statistics we’ve kept since we started show that in the last seven-and-a-half years we’ve collected 46,525 canned food items.”

Building public awareness about the Food for Fines program has been pretty easy according to Klipsch. “The local media has been very supportive. We send out a press release every month to newspapers, radio and community cable channel, and online news media, and we always include how much was collected the month before, and the total year to date. At the beginning of the new year we send out a press release that includes the totals for the year just completed and the media have done some nice feature stories using that information. We also have a “Food for Fines” page on our web site, and we activate the graphic in the front page slideshow that links to the FFF page about a week before the monthly event.”

The Food for Fines program has always been popular in Jefferson County; however, in recent years it has become essential. “The recession hit hard here; we still have a lot of people out of work, who’ve lost their homes to foreclosure, trying to get back on their feet. We’ve had articles in the news recently about people who are just now coming to the food pantries because they’ve exhausted all their resources and have swallowed their pride because their kids are hungry. Some of them used to donate to the food pantries and never thought they’d need that help themselves. So anything we can do to help --- it’s an American tradition for neighbors to help neighbors. That’s how we survive hard times, by all pulling together.  We really need to remind ourselves of that” said Klipsch.

For more information, visit http://jeffersoncountylibrary.org/library-programs/food-for-fines

Caption: Patron Michael Harrison turns in canned goods to "pay" his overdue fines to circulation clerk Jarred Brookshire as part of the Food for Fines program at Jefferson County MO Library's Northwest Branch in High Ridge Missouri.

Caption: Patron Michael Harrison turns in canned goods to "pay" his overdue fines to circulation clerk Jarred Brookshire as part of the Food for Fines program at Jefferson County MO Library's Northwest Branch in High Ridge Missouri.