Fight hunger, save a bundle at 8 Santa Clara County locations
A depressed T.S. Eliot deemed April the cruelest month, but that’s not so for patrons who have fines and fees hanging over their heads in the Santa Clara County Library District. In fact, it may be the kindest month.
That’s because the district will waive fines and fees up to $100 for any patron who brings in nonperishable food to help fight hunger in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
And it’s so easy. Any amount of perishable food you feel comfortable with donating will do the trick. Just bring it to any of the district’s eight libraries or two bookmobiles during April. Such patrons can walk away with a clear conscience, an armload of great reads, a good feeling about helping the hungry and a wallet that’s little worse for the wear. How’s that for a kind month?
That’s all there is to it. The Santa Clara County Library District and nonprofit partner Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties will take care of getting the food into the hands of food-insecure Silicon Valley residents.
The Food for Fines amnesty program kicks off April 2 and runs through the rest of the month. (All County library facilities are closed April 1 for Cesar Chavez Day.)
Library fees a barrier
The district started the Food for Fines program to encourage more library use, said Diane Roche, district marketing and communications director. For some people, owing fees for overdue books and fines for lost items can be a barrier library use.
“Silicon Valley is a really expensive place to live, ” Roche said.
“And while $5 or $10 may mean nothing to some, for others, you may be making the decision of, ‘OK, do I put that $5 or $10 towards paying my library fines or do I put that towards putting food on the table or gas in my car? ’
“We wanted to eliminate those barriers. We wanted to bring everybody back at the library.”
This year’s Food for Fines event marks the library district’s second bite at the applesauce (nonperishable food only, remember?) following the success of last April’s food drive. Last April, the district wrote off about $150,000 in fines and fees due to Food for Fines. Roche said it was “absolutely” worth it in part because library use did indeed increase.
“We were overwhelmed with the generosity of our community,” Roche said. “We had people coming in making donations who didn’t even have a fine or fee. And we had other people who came into the library who didn’t even belong to the library, just to make food donations. So we generated over 36,000 pounds of food in one month. It is truly a goodwill campaign. And this year, we’re saying to come back for seconds.”
That 36,000 pounds raised last April provided food for 30,000 meals, said Leslie Bocho, CEO of Second Harvest. Although impressive, it’s not nearly enough to feed Silicon Valley’s quarter-million residents at risk of hunger for a single day. To put the valley’s need in perspective, consider that Second Harvest supplies groceries for about 150,000 meals a day.
“In fact, that 150,000 meals a day comes from a lot of people being involved and lots of small contributions,” so it really takes everybody coming together to do this work,” Bocho said. Although those meals are currently going to about 260,000 people a month in the two-county area, “we think we’re only serving about a third of the people who need food assistance. And that number is growing.”
A staggering 1 in 4 residents of Santa Clara and San Mateo County residents are food insecure, about half of them seniors and children, Bocho said.
The scale of the problem means food drives like Food for Fines are an indispensable part of combating hunger, Bocho said.
“The Food for Fines program is really important to be able to serve members of our community who need help, and it’s also a great way for people to get involved in helping to solve hunger here in Silicon Valley,” she said.
“We think it’s a great program because it’s kind of a win-win-win,” Bocho said. “It’s a win for the libraries because they get their (patrons to come back). It’s a win for patrons because they get their fines forgiven and they also have a chance to do some good. And of course, it’s a real win for the people we serve because it provides food that to be used locally.”
To the extent that more fortunate people think about hunger, it is most likely to be in the run-up to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Food drives ramp up at job sites and stores, and news organizations help promote them.
But the Santa Clara County Library District launched Food for Fines in April for good reason. As Roche said, “Hunger doesn’t take a break, unfortunately.”
Indeed, Bocho said, April is a good time to gear up for the surge in summer demand. That occurs because most children who are eligible for free or reduced meals at school do not have access to those meals in the summer.
For more information on:
- Food for Fines, including a list of most-needed nonperishable items and how to make a monetary donation to Second Harvest, go to https://www.sccl.org/foodforfines.
- Drop-off locations and hours, including the bookmobile, go to https://www.sccl.org/Locations.
- Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley, go to https://www.shfb.org/