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Exchange canned goods for overdue book fines: Pratt to forgive debt for donations

The Enoch Pratt Free Library will again excuse overdue-book fines in exchange for donated canned food during the month of January to bolster the Maryland Food Bank’s stock.

People can drop off canned goods — including tuna and salmon, vegetables and infant formula — at any branch of the Pratt from Tuesday through Jan. 31. Each can donated will clear $1 off a fine.

Last year, the library collected more than 8,000 pounds through the Food for Fines drive, which was enough to provide a meal for more than 6,700 Marylanders. Patrons without library fines can also participate, and there is no limit on the number of contributions an individual can make.

Nonperishable boxed goods can be donated, but no glass items will be accepted.

Pam Sandlian Smith, president of the Public Library Association and director of the Anythink Libraries near Denver, said the food drive represents the outsized role libraries play in their communities. The Pratt, for example, brings lawyers to the branches to help people get free legal help, offers fitness classes, pairs patrons with social workers and hosts teen clubs, such as one on anime.

“Libraries, specifically public libraries, are very adaptive and are looking for signals from their community to be able to help the community be successful, and this takes different avenues,” Smith said. “Libraries are fluid; we have the ability to be adaptive, given the range of information we have.”

A bonus of the drive is clearing up old fines so no one is left unable to use their library card, she said.

Carmen Del Guercio, Maryland Food Bank president and CEO, said the drive will help the organization restock its shelves.

“Hunger doesn’t end once the holidays are over,” Del Guercio said in a statement. “The Food for Fines campaign is one we look forward to every year because it offers local residents an easy way to show their support by helping us restock our shelves after a busy holiday season."

The food bank distributes more than 112,000 meals each day, providing nearly 41 million a year. The nonprofit says that while its food stock was relatively strong going into the holidays, financial contributions are down as a result of natural disasters that struck the country in recent months. Officials said that would restrict the food bank’s ability to purchase food to restock the shelves after the holidays.

Among the items most needed are canned chicken, peanut butter, beans, low-sodium vegetables, apple sauce, fruit cocktail in light syrup or its own juices, brown and white rice, macaroni and cheese, oatmeal, granola bars, chicken noodle soup, low-sodium beef strew and evaporated milk.

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