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Youths turn library fines into meals for hungry


Question: How can overdue library books help feed the hungry?

It sounds like a riddle, but a group of Cornelius teens has come up with a simple answer.

Members of the Cornelius Public Library’s Teen Advisory Council have created a program called “Food for Fines,” which allows people to donate canned goods or other non-perishable food items in exchange for a reduction in their library fines.

The three-day program will run April 19-21 and works like this: anyone turning in a can of food will have $1 deducted from their fines, up to a maximum of $5.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - The Cornelius Public Library's Teen Advisory Group has a plan to accept food donations in exchange for a reduction in library fines, and several group members (left to right) Vanessa Gomez Torres, Alondra Rojo, Adrianna Calderon and Alejandra Rojo came to the library last week to promote the program. 'Food for Fines'will be in effect April 19-21.

The youth group formed last fall, primarily to provide ideas about how to get young people engaged in the library.

“They’re charged with helping us be teen-friendly,” said Karen Hill, the city’s library director. “We have been trying to reach teens more, and find programs in the summer for them. They wanted to do something to expose people to the library and do some good at the same time.”

Maria Aguilar, the library’s circulation coordinator and also the overseer of the youth group, said the teens — all high schoolers — were asked to come up with a program that would allow them to give something back to their community.

“It was right around the holidays, and they knew the firefighters used to do a food-and-toys project,” Aguilar explained. “They thought they could pick up that project, but it was short notice to set up the program, so we decided to wait.”

The “Food for Fines” program is limited to three days, at least for now, because the teens “wanted to keep it simple and see what the impact is,” said Aguilar. “It’s a pilot program.”

Jesse Rojo, a junior at Glencoe High School in Hillsboro, is one of the members of the advisory group. Although Rojo lives in Hillsboro, he said the Cornelius library is closer to him than either of the Hillsboro branches.

A Glencoe counselor mentioned the youth group to Rojo, who also joined the library board in Cornelius.

Rojo said the choice of the “Food for Fines” event was unanimous among group members “and we had big support from the Cornelius City Council and the library board.”

Those involved believe the program will provide two local benefits: it helps the community by gathering donations of food, and it also could make the difference for those who want to use the library but cannot because they’ve failed to pay off their fines.

“A lot of people have fines,” explained Hill. “This idea might get people to go ahead and pay the fines off more easily, and it will allow those who are just over the limit to continue to check out materials. So it’s win-win.”

The library charges a daily late fee of 15 cents for books and $1 for videos and DVDs.

“Those can add up,” said Aguilar. “It’s a county-wide problem. There are thousands of people with fines.”

Two Cornelius churches — St. Alexander Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church — will accept the food donations. The churches distribute food to those who need it in the community.

“We wanted this to be very local, with priority to Cornelius residents,” Rojo explained.

Aguilar pointed out that the need for food is not limited to the time around the holidays, when most food drives take place.

“Food is needed throughout all days,” she said. “The churches are very supportive, and they are more than happy to receive whatever they get. As people need food they go to the churches and select what they need for that day.”

Aguilar added that the Methodist church was so excited after the teens presented their idea, church volunteers dropped off a food barrel in the lobby of the library the next day.

Rojo said he hoped the youth group’s efforts would help make a difference in the lives of local residents.

“Hunger is a big problem everywhere,” he explained. “Especially in Cornelius. We are united to help the less fortunate, and this is an opportunity to show compassion.”