Tommie Traditions: Food for Fines

1While St. Thomas libraries have a long, rich tradition of researching, writing and reflecting within their walls, students still often check out books – yes, real paperbound books. As most people can empathize, research papers require more hours than anticipated, resulting in quickly accumulating fines on overdue books – an unfortunate scenario for college-kid budgets.

Nathan Wunrow, St. Thomas libraries billing coordinator, noticed these accumulating fines, and so, in spring 2009, he led the launch of what has become a Tommie tradition: Food for Fines.

The idea is simple, yet poignant: Patrons donate non-perishable food items to satisfy any outstanding fines on their library account. The annual collection typically begins at the beginning of Library Week – around mid-April – and runs through the end of the spring semester. The collected food is donated to neighborhood charities, which have included the Franciscan Brothers of Peace and the Francis Basket Food Shelf. Since spring 2013, Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul (formerly known as Saint Paul Area Council of Churches) has received the donations.

Food for Fines originally was conceptualized as graduating students’ last chance to alleviate their overdue fines through donations, in which every can given relieved $2 in fines. This year, St. Thomas libraries emphasized that all – not just those with fines – could (and should!) donate.

Wunrow advertises Food for Fines through the library’s social media outlets, signage in departments and dorms around campus, digital advertisements in the Anderson Student Center and an email sent to all current UST library patrons with outstanding fines. Students (as well as faculty and staff) deliver their food to collection boxes in either the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library or the Archbishop Ireland Memorial Library. In recent years, students have rallied their peers with donation boxes in their residence halls.

In the past seven years, St. Thomas libraries and their patrons have donated more than 3,700 pounds of food.

Rebecca Harstad of Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul, 2015’s Food for Fines recipient, recently told Wunrow: “O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library is amazing! ... We are very fortunate to have you as our neighbor!”