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Middlebury residents can pay library fines with food

MIDDLEBURY — If you find you have overdue fines at Middlebury’s Ilsley Public Library this August, be sure to bring peanut butter, diapers, soup, fruits or veggies with you when you return your books.
From Aug. 1-15, Ilsley patrons with outstanding fines will be able to pay them off with canned foods instead of cash.
In collaboration with the Addison Community Action Food Shelf, the library will forgive up to $30 in fines, with $3 forgiven for every can of food. The food drive, which will also be hosted at the Sarah Partridge Library in East Middlebury, has already been a success at other libraries throughout the state, such as the South Burlington Library.
“The idea of it is to allow customers who have built up a lot of fines to have the chance to forgive those fines in a way that supports the community,” director of the Ilsley Public Library Kevin Unrath said. “It’s a real win-win.”
The summer months are the Ilsley’s busiest, and the hope is that even families going on vacation will have time to return overdue books and pay with canned foods.
Unrath first had the idea of allowing patrons to pay off fines by donating food after discussing various fine-forgiveness programs with the Ilsley Library’s Board of Trustees. He contacted the Addison Community Action Food Shelf (ACAFS), a satellite office of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, which agreed to partner with the library and provided lists of suggested non-perishable food for donation, as well as containers for the donated food. The CVOEO has offices throughout Vermont, but the ACAFS office at 54 Creek Road in Middlebury provides food solely for Addison County.
Donna Rose of the ACAFS agreed to provide Unrath with three bins for food donations: two for the Ilsley Public Library, and one for the Sarah Partridge Library. Rose said that having a food drive over the summer will be particularly beneficial to the 160-209 familiesper month that go to ACAFS for help putting food on the table.
“We’re always feeding people,” Rose said. “Communities want food drives around the holidays, but we feed people 12 months out of the year. Having the drive in August is fantastic, because we get very few donations during the summer, and we really need food drives all year round.”
Offering a fines-forgiveness program, even for a few weeks, will also be helpful to patrons who might not have the money to pay off their fines, Unrath said.
“Maybe they don’t have the funds to pay for it, so this is a chance for them to pay it. It’s up to $30, so if people have checked out a lot of items and they’ve gone missing for example, they still won’t be able to get rid of all those fines,” he said. “But this is enough, for the majority of our patrons, to get rid of some fines.”
Ilsley will not host another canned food drive after the two weeks in August because the revenue from fines constitutes a source of income that the library cannot afford to give up entirely, Unrath said.
“We hope it’s very successful, to be able to forgive a lot of fines. But we don’t want it to be where people are holding onto books in their house for six months, just waiting for that week. It’s not the idea we want,” he said.
Fines at the Ilsley vary depending on patrons’ ages and materials checked out. For children’s books the fines are 5 cents a day per book overdue; for adults, it’s 10 cents. Films are a dollar per day overdue, and Unrath said it’s easy to rack up the fines quite quickly. But, he noted, the fines are meant as an incentive for patrons to return materials so they can circulate, rather than as a means to raise money.
“We never look at fines as a way to make revenue for the town,” Unrath said. “That’s not the idea for the town, so we don’t anticipate that it’ll have any impact on the budget for the library, since it’s for a short time.”
The Ilsley is not the only institution in Middlebury to have joined forces with Addison County food shelves. The Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op, for example, has provided daily donations to the ACAFS for the past 15 years, and several area grocery stores provide food shelf collection boxes for shoppers who buy packaged foods at the register for the express purpose of donating them.
Local churches such as Middlebury’s St. Stephen’s and the Congregational Church of Middlebury often provide free public meals as well, opportunities that Rose noted are important particularly in the winter months when families must also pay to heat their homes. “We see a spike (in demand) in the winter months, when fuel costs are higher,” she said.
“I think that a library and the food shelf are both places that people go when they want assistance and help,” Unrath said. “Certainly the library has an educational mission, but we both provide a service to the public, and I do think that that is something that would resonate with a library patron.”
Food not fines
Recommended items to exchange for $3 in Ilsley Library overdue fines
•  Canned fish — tuna, salmon, sardines, etc.
•  Peanut butter
•  Cereal — all varieties
•  Canned fruits — all varieties
•  Canned vegetables — all varieties
•  Canned meat — beef, pork, chicken, etc.
•  Canned soups and chili
•  Boxed meals — macaroni and cheese, Hamburger Helper, etc.
•  Pasta and pasta sauce — all varieties
•  Diapers — all sizes
•  Pet food — all varieties

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