Libraries Are Letting People Pay Back Overdue Fines By Donating Food

Although National Library Week took place last week, many libraries across the country will be accepting food donations as payment for late fees until the end of April. The theme for 2019 National Library Week was "Libraries = Strong Communities," and Gates Foundation Co-founder Melinda Gates served as 2019 National Library Week Honorary Chair.

In the US, 41 million people struggle with hunger, a number nearly equal to the 40.6 million officially living in poverty. According to the World Bank, 769 million people around the world lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2013. 3.2 million of these people live in the US.

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The Spokane Public Library in Washington, the Lompoc Public Library System in California, and the Thomas Beaver Free Library in Pennsylvania are just a few of the libraries participating in the Food for Fines charity event. Libraries will be accepting any unopened, nonperishable foods, which they will deliver to local food banks. Some libraries are even accepting pet food for animal shelters in their area.

The Food for Fines program hopes to raise awareness about hunger in local communities, as well as to get people to reconsider standard library late fees. In addition to participating in the event this month, many libraries are contemplating doing away with fines all together in an effort to attract low-income families that may be put off by cash payments. In Los Angeles County, for example, public libraries allow underage members to clear their late fee balance by reading more books.

First sponsored in 1958, National Library Week is backed by the American Library Association (ALA) and observed in libraries across the US each April. All libraries, including school, public, academic, and special libraries, participate in National Library Week.

According to the World Hunger Education Service, the estimated percentage of US households that were food insecure in 2016 was 12.3%. Though relatively unchanged from 12.7% in 2015, food insecurity has decreased from 14.9% in 2011. However, it is still above the estimated percentage of food insecurity of 11.1%, which existed pre-recession in US households.

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The prevalence of food insecurity varies from state to state, ranging from 8.7% in Hawaii to 18.7% in Mississippi. Based on data from 2016, the 10 hungriest states are Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Oregon, North Carolina, Maine, and Oklahoma.

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