LIVINGSTON, NJ — For the fourth consecutive year, the Livingston Public Library gave back to the community by hosting its Food for Fines program, which allowed those with overdue library fees to donate nonperishable food items in exchange for having their account cleared.
According to the library, which held this donation event in conjunction with Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors (LNHN), the number of participating library members nearly doubled this year compared to 2018 with a total of 331 people donating. This also meant that the value of fines forgiven, which amounted to $4,816, also nearly doubled last year’s total.
“We’re always looking for ways to make our services as accessible as possible,” Melissa Brisbin, associate director of the Livingston Public Library. “By partnering with LNHN, we are able to help families in Livingston that are going through tough times.”
Food for Fines began in 2016, when Brisbin first joined the library staff. Brisbin, who had already successfully implemented the program at other public libraries prior to coming to Livingston, explained that Food for Fines is held in September because it’s the start of the school year.
“We thought that offering amnesty in September is a great way to clear accounts for families and students heading into a new school year,” she said.
Brisbin also reported that Livingston residents have been very supportive of Food for Fines over the last four years.
“The public response has been overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “Many of our patrons look forward to this program each year and the opportunity to help those in need in our area.”
All donations from the Food for Fines program go toward the efforts of LNHN, which was founded in 2016 to support Livingston residents experiencing unexpected difficulty obtaining short-term financial help, food, clothing and other necessities.
As an affiliate of Healthy Communities, Healthy Youth (HCHY), LNHN also creates opportunities to help and empower those in need.
As part of this initiative, Livingston Township social worker Ana Millan screens families that apply for assistance to determine what kind of help is needed.
LNHN board member Michelle Limieux said that she and her fellow volunteers have been thrilled with the success of the Food for Fines program.
“This is one of those really great opportunities for the library, the recipients of the food pantry and the community,” she said. “We are extremely grateful that the library participates in this initiative.”
According to the LNHN Facebook page, the organization has been able to provide “meals, fresh produce, non-perishables, clothing and gift cards to grocery stores” for Livingston families in need. One-time emergency monetary assistance has also been provided in some situations.
When Sister Barbara of St. Philomena’s Church retired, LNHN assumed management of the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW), Livingston’s food pantry. CHOW currently supplies food consistently to 30 families within the community. When LNHN has a surplus of food, it is often shared with pantries in nearby cities like Morristown, Newark and the Oranges.
LNHN has often expressed gratitude to the township council for providing CHOW with storage space at town hall in order to collect donations.
Items that are most in need include grocery store gift cards, clothing, tuna, beans, soup, vegetables and fruit in cans, peanut butter, pasta sauces, baby food, jelly, jam, condiments, packages of breakfast cereal, dried beans, pasta, white or brown rice, macaroni and cheese, powdered milk, shampoo, paper goods and toiletries.
According to Limieux, donations continue to increase on an annual basis. She noted that the first year she collected items for the group, she and her husband filled their car with all of the donations. The following year, the donation load was so large that all of the board members filled a truck with supplies.
Local organizations like the Livingston Kiwanis Club, Livingston Rotary, religious institutions, Boy and Girl Scout troops and others as well as various students and businesses assist LNHN throughout the year.
“Livingston’s community has been very generous,” said Limieux. “Sometimes people call us after hosting a Super Bowl party or another celebration and donate all of their leftover food.”
Some previous and upcoming projects include the following:
- “Stuff the Bus,” which is scheduled this year for Oct. 23, is an annual project in which schools ask their students to bring in supplies and clothes for those in need.
- Keller Williams Realtors makes sandwiches for those in need.
- Temple B’Nai Abraham recently completed a record-breaking High Holy Day food drive.
- CardioYoga hosted a free, donation-based class.
- Livingston Pickleball organized a "Cans for Karen" donation drive in honor of CHOW Pantry Manager Karen Garber who passed away this year.
- Livingston's Alstede Farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Chapter donates surplus produce to LNHN.
- Livingston Rotary made LNHN their Rotary Food Tasting Beneficiary.
- Jefferson Lake Camp collected non-perishables for CHOW (they collect each summer).
- Boy Scout and Girl Scout Troops help LNHN.
- Sassquad Trail Running's Fat Sass Switchback Challenge collected donations in lieu of running fees.
- Livingston Township offered a discount rate on summer camp and The Ruth Silverman-Rosenbloom & Victor H. Rosenbloom Charitable Foundation, Inc. paid the rest of the camp fee for seven children.
- Livingston High School’s Lacrosse team had a food drive.
- Golda Ochs school ran a food drive.
- Saint Barnabas Medical Center and Sodexo collected food for St. John’s in Newark.
LNHN relies entirely on monetary donations. For more information about LNHN, contact Millan at 973 535-7961 ext. 231 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Email LNHN directly at LNHN07039@gmail.com.
Donations can also be made through the LNHN Facebook page, where community members can also arrange to donate food and/or supplies.