This just in: Peanut butter cures library fines

Tacoma Public Library is about to redefine “fine food.”

From Feb. 19 through March 2, it will offer a delectable deal to anyone who owes late fees on a book: Bring in any three non-perishable food items, and the library will erase $10 in overdue book fines. Repeat as needed.

Imagine, a tin of tuna, a jar of peanut butter and a box of powdered eggs could erase the memory of the mystery hidden under the sofa cushions for two months. They would also make pretty good Mystery Basket contents on the Food Network’s “Chopped,” but that is another story.

“We hope that this program will encourage people to return overdue items and clear their library records while having the opportunity to donate food to help people in their community rather than just pay fees,” said librarian Rhonda Kristoff.

This program is her recipe, down to the details.

• All eight of Tacoma’s public libraries are participating.

• All the food will go to food banks in the neighborhood where it was donated.

• Donations must be non-perishable, canned, boxed or sealed. No fresh veggies, fruits or meats.

• No home-canned or homemade items, no matter how tasty they are.

• No alcohol or mixers.

• No rusty or unlabeled cans, nor any that are within 30 days of the past due date.

• You do not have to owe fines to donate.

• Donations cannot pay for lost or damaged items.

Donations can, however, restock food banks running low after the holidays. They can get the food banks on track to surpass the 6,313,944 pounds of food Emergency Food Network distributed in 2012. That food went home in 530,278 client visits. A client visit could represent one person, or a family of any size, said Emergency Food Network Executive Director Helen McGovern.

She said that each month, 110,000 people seek help finding food. Ninety-nine percent of them fall below the national poverty line, and almost half are families with at least one adult working. Of those 110,000 people, 39 percent are younger than 18 and 14 percent are people older than 55.

“The number one item area food banks are especially in need of is peanut butter,” McGovern noted.

A hungry kid does not have to cook peanut butter.

McGovern rounded out the most wanted list: canned tuna, chicken, beef, chili, stew, ravioli, cannelloni, fruits and vegetables; hot cereals, powdered eggs and milk, juices, Ensure and other supplemental drinks, baby formula and diapers.

She is delighted with the food drive.

“Our libraries are the heart of the community, a place where people come together,” she said. “Our neighbors are in need, and this is a way to show the generosity of the residents in Tacoma. This is a win-win. The fine is paid. Materials can be checked out, and families can have access to nutritious food at their local food bank.”

Fine food, indeed.

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