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Libraries accept food as payment for late fees


By Karen Cimino Wilson
Special to the Independent Tribune
No cash to pay your overdue library book fines? Bring food.

The Cabarrus County Public Library will forgive fines for a food donation now through Dec. 15 during its annual Food for Fines program. 

The program, which started about five years ago, helps local food banks stock up for the Christmas season while encouraging Cabarrus County residents to return long-overdue books and pay off their debt to the library through charity.

The library will accept non-perishable food items in lieu of fines. Each food donation will have a maximum value of $2 in fines. 

“One of the main reasons for the program is to get folks back in the library,” said Tom Dillard, library director for Cabarrus County Public Library. Dillard oversees all four Cabarrus branches.

The Cabarrus County Public Library caps late fines at $4 per book, but if you have had a lot of overdue books it can add up fast, Dillard said. This is one way to get folks back to the library while helping a good cause, he said.

The food is donated to area food pantries. 

The Cooperative Christian Ministry in Concord receives food from the Concord and Kannapolis library branches. The Mount Pleasant and Harrisburg branches serve other smaller pantries, said Ed Hosack, executive director of the Cooperative Christian Ministry.

“It makes all the difference in the world,” Hosack said about the Food for Fines program. “The library doing this program not only gathers more food, but it increases the awareness of many people in the community that there is a need.”

The Cooperative Christian Ministry’s pantry has seen an increase in need as the economy has weakened. The pantry provides nonperishable groceries to families in need in Cabarrus and southern Rowan counties. More than 700,000 pounds of food groceries with a retail value exceeding $1.4 million were distributed in 2007.

September distributions were up by 50 percent over last year, Hosack said. 

“Our community is helping us keep up with the need,” Hosack said. “Presently, our food pantries are holding their own. The big food drives and the small food drives are keeping us going.”

Food for Fines collected 1,033 food items in 2006 and 1,277 food items last year, Dillard said. Last year, the collection meant the library forgave about $2,000 worth of fines to help the local pantries.

The origin of the Food for Fines program is unclear, Dillard said, but the idea is popular with libraries across the state and country with library systems from Florida to Oregon offering folks a chance to pay their debts by donating food. Former Cabarrus County commissioner Carolyn Carpenter brought the idea to the local library, he said. The Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners then gave the library permission to run the program annually during the holiday season.

Dillard said he encourages all folks to consider donating to the Food for Fines program. You don’t have to owe the library money to participate, he said. 

Donated food items must be nonperishable, have original labels and packaging, and not be out of date. No perishable food items will be accepted. The Food for Fines event applies to fines only. Food donations will not be accepted to pay for lost, non-returned, or damaged library materials. 

Contributions to the Food for Fines program will be accepted at any of the four library branches in Concord, Kannapolis, Mount Pleasant or Harrisburg. For more information or to find the closest library branch, call 704-920-2050 or log on to You can also look up your account and how much you owe on the library Web site.

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