SAFETY HARBOR — Saddled with an overdue fine because you forgot to return that copy of New Moon to the library? Don't worry about it.
Drop off canned goods or other nonperishable food items until the second week of January and — voila! — libraries in Safety Harbor and Oldsmar will forgive the debt. Safety Harbor will even accept diapers, formula and dog food in lieu of cash.
"It really makes patrons feel good," said Gail Geraci, circulation supervisor at the Safety Harbor Public Library. "It makes them feel like they're giving to the community."
Food for Fines, as the programs in both cities are called, will cover only fees assessed during the months of November and December.
"It's not for lost fines," Geraci said. "It's not for damaged items. It's current fines, from Thanksgiving through Dec. 31."
Some people have tried to erase older debts with their donations, but those cases have been rare.
"We explain to them we can't really make an exception for a January fine in November and December," Geraci said. "People are very understanding. They don't get upset. I suppose it's the old adage, 'It never hurts to ask.' "
Oldsmar offers a little more leeway than Safety Harbor. If customers returned books or DVDs as long ago as June and never paid the fines, they can bring in canned or boxed food items now to erase that debt, Oldsmar Public Library director Bert Weber said.
"We don't have any 10- or 20-year-old fines," she said. "Most of them are within the year. We try to go through fines that are a year old and resolve those."
The most anyone in Oldsmar has donated is 20 items, Weber said. One Safety Harbor library customer owes $30 and is expected to bring in an equivalent amount of groceries any day now, Geraci said.
"We don't stand there and say, 'Okay, that only comes up to $10, and you have $25 in fines,' " she said. "It's an honesty policy."
As of Wednesday, Oldsmar had collected at least 670 items and waived $670 in fines; Safety Harbor, $618.08.
The food will be distributed to various charities in Safety Harbor and Oldsmar such as the Neighborhood Family Centers and Oldsmar Cares.
"Some of it has already been distributed," Geraci said. "We've been extremely fortunate."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.