Tacoma libraries take unusual approach to feeding hungry

TACOMA, Wash. -- Food bank donations have dried up in Pierce County, but some librarians have found a temporary fix.

The season of giving is gone, and the Allen AME Food Pantry doesn't have enough food to fill its need. It's the same story all over Tacoma.

"It's sad, because some other food banks, like the Salvation Army, they barely have bread anymore," said food bank client Heather Duffey.

Tacoma's food banks saw more than 530 million visits last years, which was a 38 percent jump from the prior year. Food bank manager Mary Barrett said she's seen more and more elderly clients in recent years.

"That is really sad to see, people who have worked all their lives and now have to depend on a food bank," Barrett said.

Tacoma's libraries are now lending a hand to help the food banks get back on solid ground. Librarians wanted to hold a food drive, but figured they would get more goods by forgiving overdue fines in exchange for food donations.

"This is a first for Tacoma," said librarian Nathan Bomer. "We've already taken care of several hundred dollars worth of fines. People were lined up out the door."

Through March 2, three cans cuts $10 off library fines, and there's no limit to how much you can give. Catherine Franzen had some overdue DVDs. She took care of a $20 fine by bringing in food, and she's far from the only one taking advantage of the deal.

"I was on the phone earlier today with someone who has fines from 2006 and he called to find out how many fines he had because he was very interested in (donating food). He said, 'I've already got 30 cans and wanted to know how many more cans he needed,'" Bomer said.

Tacoma libraries are holding Food for Fines drives at all eight locations