Food for fines’ at county libraries

NEPTUNE, NJ – More than 80,000 people in Monmouth County need emergency food. The Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders has partnered with the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties to collect food for the entire month of April.

“There is a dire need in our county to feed the hungry,” Freeholder Director John P. Curley said. “Today, most of the new people in need of assistance are formerly working, middle class families who lost their jobs or are underemployed, and the demand on the FoodBank has increased dramatically. I urge all Monmouth County residents who are able to assist during this food drive to do so.”

The main collection points will be the 13 county library branches, including the Eastern Branch in Shrewsbury and the Library Headquarters in Manalapan. As an incentive, the libraries are offering to erase fines for overdue materials in exchange for donations of food. Collection bins also will be at the Hall of Records in Freehold Borough and the Agriculture and Human Services buildings in Freehold Township

“When the FoodBank started 25 years ago it distributed 100,000 pounds of food,” said Carlos M. Rodriguez, executive director of the FoodBank. “Last year, we supplied more than 260 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters with almost 7 millions pounds of food. We have experienced a 71 percent increase in demand for emergency food since the start of the recession. The need is here.”

The county’s partnership with the FoodBank stems from a situation earlier this year in which the county Social Services office was experiencing a three-month backlog processing applications for food stamps. Curley, who is liaison to Social Services, declared a food stamp emergency in Monmouth County and immediately hired five part-time clerical workers to help ease the backlog.

“When people get turned away from food stamps they turn to the FoodBank,” Curley said.

April is also National County Government Month, sponsored by the National Association of Counties (NACo), and this year’s theme is “Healthy Counties, Healthy Families.” The freeholders have chosen the food drive as a way to promote healthy families in support of the national theme. 

Non-perishable, protein-rich foods such as peanut butter, granola bars and tuna fish are examples of items suitable for donation.

There are 13 branches of the Monmouth County Library, all of which will be participating in the month-long “Food for Fines” program to benefit the FoodBank. The libraries are: Headquarters in Manalapan, Eastern Branch in Shrewsbury, Atlantic Highlands, Allentown, Colts Neck, Hazlet, Holmdel, Howell, Marlboro, Ocean Township, Oceanport, Wall and West Long Branch.

“The Monmouth County Library System is the public gathering place in many communities, so it makes sense that the libraries would serve as the main collection points for this food drive,” said Freeholder Lillian G. Burry, liaison to the Library System. “I commend the staff at all of our library branches for stepping up and helping out with this most worthwhile cause.” 

The drive will work this way: patrons who have outstanding materials will bring their food to the library counter. The libraries will reduce the fines by $2 for every food item donated. Separate bins will be placed in the libraries for people who do not have fines but want to donate food anyway.

“We have done a ‘Food for Fines’ program in the past and people seem to like it,” Monmouth County Library Director Ken Sheinbaum said. “For us it is a good way to get outstanding material returned to the library and help a good cause all at the same time.”

“You don’t have to owe a library fine to participate in this food drive; we urge everyone to participate,” Curley said. “In these times it’s not just who we traditionally think of as the poor who need food; it is our friends and neighbors who are out of work and are struggling to get by.”

The freeholders also presented the FoodBank with a proclamation in honor of their partnership on the April food drive.