Late fees help feed those in need in winter


Kelly Wenzel

A box had already been filled with non-perishable goods donated by students during the first stretch of the Library’s Food For Fines campaign, a program to collect food for nonprofit organization Chicago Lights in exchange for late fee credit. 

By Assistant Campus Editor

In an effort to gather food donations for Chicago Lights, a nonprofit social advocacy group at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St., Columbia’s library has created a fine forgiveness program called Food For Fines.

Students have been able to donate nonperishable food items to have fines waived since Nov. 12. Each donation equals a $2.50 credit toward fees up to the total of $20, the only exception being fines accumulated through damaged or lost book charges. The program will run through the end of the semester, according to Joy Thornton, an access services assistant in the library. 

Thornton said she got the idea for the partnership with Chicago Lights after seeing its purple ribbons tied around trees on Michigan Avenue while riding the 147 bus. Thornton said she became eager to partner with Chicago Lights for the food drive, especially because it is a smaller organization. 

“We were going to go with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, but I realized there are a lot of churches around us, so going to someone smaller may help someone else,” Thornton said.  “I know the food depository helps everyone, but sometimes they can’t stretch their hands out far enough.”

Jackie Lorens, program development manager of Chicago Lights’ Elam Davies Social Service Center program, said Chicago Lights acts as the umbrella organization for six programs that focus on assisting children, youth and adults who face challenges of poverty, hunger and homelessness on a daily basis. 

Lorens said each of the organization’s six programs have many partnerships with other colleges, and volunteers from the universities regularly pass through their organizations during mission trips. 

“In terms of the food drive collection, we have a lot of ongoing food drives especially around the holidays,” Lorens said. “We are always open to a lot of different partnerships, and there’s so many different programs and relationships going on that it’s a very long list.”

Lorens said the yield from the Food For Fines program will benefit the Elam Davies Social Services Center’s Consumer Choice Food Pantry after the goods are delivered to Chicago Lights. As opposed to other pantries, where guests receive a preselected bag of goods, guests of EDSSC can select their own food to supplement their dietary needs based on the size of their household during an appointment with a volunteer at the organization’s facilities. 

“These are appointments where people can feel more comfortable just coming in on their own schedule and whenever we have availability so they don’t feel like they’re standing in a large waiting room—there’s no bread line, per se,” Lorens said. “They get that personal interaction with a volunteer who gives them that time and space even though it’s kind of a stressful situation for them.”

Lorens said EDSSC is very excited about being a part of the Food For Fines Program because it is a way to partner with Columbia while raising awareness of the services the EDSSC offers. 

“It’s a very creative idea,” Lorens said. “We’re excited to give back to our guests, and they will definitely appreciate it.” 

Edzen Lebita, also an access services assistant for the library who is working on the project, said students are welcome to donate even if they do not have fines.

“We’re open to donations as well,” Lebita said. “If students don’t have fines, they are more than welcome to just bring in canned food, “It’s all for a good cause.”

Thornton said they do not have a quantitative goal but hope to have enough to donate for their two planned target dates—on Thanksgiving and just before Christmas—by the time the Food For Fines program ends Dec. 12. However, Chicago Lights and Fourth Presbyterian are always accepting food and clothing donations, she said. 

“We’re just excited to be a part of it,” Thornton said. “When this event is over, donating to the Fourth Presbyterian is still open. If people still want to give after our fundraiser is over, they are always accepting.”