Good news barely fits in the blue tote at Portage Public Library and weighs about 150 pounds.
“It’s almost overflowing,” adult programs coordinator Autumn Baumann said of the receptacle that sits behind the circulation desk.
It holds donations to the Portage Food Pantry — each item knocking off $1 in library fines for patrons.
“Food for Fines” started on Dec. 1 and ends Tuesday, allowing patrons to receive up to $10 in forgiven fines when they drop off nonperishable food items.
“I’ve been surprised by how many people have decided to pay it forward,” Baumann said of an almost-immediate development: people donated food items to pay off fines for patrons they don’t even know, the items including canned fruit and vegetables, meats, pasta items, applesauce and more.
“It’s a great thing,” she said.
The library does not keep a running grand total of unpaid fines, but Library Director Emily Goad estimated it to be in the thousands of dollars.
“I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of our patrons and we’re so appreciative,” she said. “A lot of people have fines and I completely empathize with them. I have fines, too.”
Patrons can have up to $20 in fines before they’re no longer able to check out items, Goad explained. “Food for Fines” does not apply to lost or damaged items and patrons will get charged the full price for an item when it is in lost mode for more than 28 days.
“I think there are definitely people who stop using the library once their fines reach a certain amount, so it’s nice to provide them a way to get their fines to a point where they can start using the library again,” Baumann said. “We’re very appreciative of the people bringing in more than what’s necessary for their situation, and I think it has brought our patrons together with a sense of wanting to help everyone who uses the library.”
Baumann noted that “Food for Fines” was an idea borrowed from other Wisconsin libraries — programs that had proved very successful.
“We’re always looking for new ways to be involved in the community, and we would love to hold something similar in the future that would benefit other organizations, like the local animal shelter or homeless shelter,”
Goad and Baumann are still determining when the library would hold a similar program and what organization it might benefit, but they want patrons to remember they still have until Tuesday to bring in food for the local pantry.
“Take advantage of it while there are still a couple of days left,” Baumann said.