2012-11-30 / Front Page

Library fines? No problem

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Sometimes, it can be difficult to find the motivation to bring back an overdue library book that has been cast aside into a little-used corner of the house, gathering dust as fines mount.

But this December, the South Portland Public Library is encouraging its patrons to return their overdue items and help a worthy cause at the same time.

The library is running a “Food for Fines” program during the holiday season that will allow residents to bring in overdue items and have their fines waived in exchange for nonperishable donations to the South Portland Food Cupboard.

Patrons can bring in their donations anytime during regular library hours between Saturday, Dec. 1 and Saturday, Dec. 15. Any unopened items with a current expiration date are accepted, but the food cupboard is in most need of chicken noodle soup, tuna fish, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and SpaghettiOs. A full list of recommended items can be found on the library’s website at southportlandlibrary.com.

Library Director Kevin Davis said the program offers residents a way to help during a time when the need for donations hits its peak. The library ran the food for fines program for the first time in 2010, when Assistant Library Director Susan Samberg brought up the idea.

Davis said library patrons gave about 40 cases of food two years ago, along with some cash donations.

“We’d like to match that,” Davis said. “What we’ve heard is that the need is still very strong, if not stronger. We encourage people to bring in as much as they want.”

Sybil Riemensnider, director of the South Portland Food Cupboard, said demand has increased steadily since the summer, with the need about 20 percent higher now than it was in July.

The food cupboard served about 650 meals a month during summer, and this month she expects that number to eclipse 800. Riemensnider said the food cupboard served 114 meals to needy families in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.

“There’s a lot of needy people out there and they have families, they have kids. Any food drive is absolutely wonderful,” Riemensnider said.

The library didn’t experience much of a drop-off in fines paid last time they offered “Food for Fines,” Davis said. Most people dropped off a donation and paid their fines anyway. All fines are forgiven no matter the size of the contribution.

“It instills a nice sense of community,” he said. “It’s not so much, I’ll bring in my can of beans and not have to pay $3.”

The holiday season is when most people think of giving donations, and Riemensnider said these months provide a huge help for the food cupboard. Although the food cupboard didn’t have any turkeys to give away this year, it did have 200 gift certificates of $25 to Legion Square Market, thanks to the South Portland Lions Club. Rhonda Murphy at Legion Square Market said nearly 90 of those gift cards have already been redeemed.

“It’s such a big boost to be able to give people something extra,” Riemensnider said.

In fact, the community is so generous that the food cupboard’s space in the basement of St. John the Evangelist Church on Main Street looks like a storage area with piles of nonperishable food items stacked up, Riemensnider said. She has been able to help other, smaller pantries in the area because of the large volume of donations coming in during the holiday season.

But most years, surplus built up in the winter months dwindles quickly, with so many families relying on the food cupboard for meals.

“We always say, ‘Wouldn’t this be wonderful if the same thing happened in February and March when we’re down to nothing?’” Riemensnider said.

For now, residents who want to help can stop by the library. The branch library on Wescott Street is closed for repairs to the pedestrian bridge outside the entrance, but Davis said he is hoping it will reopen Sunday, Dec. 2. Donations cannot be placed in the book drop, so those who want to take advantage of the program must come during the hours the library is open, which are listed on its website.

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