Monday, December 11, 2006

Food for Fines

I don’t often toot my own horn. No, honestly. But I want to share the story of a program I started that is now run all around the country. I will admit that similar programs began around the same time, so I suppose I really can’t say mine was the original. However, it was one of the first, and I did come up with it on my own. By the way, did I mention that I was 10?

In the late fall of 1989, a lot of people were being laid off. Where I lived, in southern NH, things seemed particularly tough. Many people in the area worked for the computer company Digital, and in the struggling economy, whole groups were let go at one time. My parents were among the lucky ones who made it through with jobs intact.

In those days, I spent a good deal of time at the public library. Mondays and Thursdays it was open until 8, so I could walk over after school and my parents could pick me up when they got out of work. One afternoon, right around this time of year, I was sitting in the children’s area and for whatever reason was thinking about the local food pantry. There had recently been a lot of publicity about the need for donations as the number of families using their resources had increased. Suddenly, it hit me: why couldn’t the library collect non-perishable food items in placeof fines for overdue books? It would benefit both parties. The library would get their books back, and the food pantry would get their shelves filled. The children’s librarian agreed, and so did the library director. I named it “Food for Fines,” we set up a huge box for donations, and the local newspaper even did a story on me. And if you Google the phrase“Food for Fines,” you’ll get about 1.8 million results.

It was such a small thing, and yet I'm sure has helped thousands of people around the country. I try to remember the Food for Fines program whenever I try to come up with some big idea that will change the world. Maybe it doesn't have to be a big idea. Small, simple changes can make big impacts too. There are two quotes from Mother Teresa (one of my heroes) that I think really get this idea: "If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one," and "In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love." Yup, I think that about sums it up.

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