Close the Book on Hunger: Knox County Public Library's Food Drive Success

Knox County (Indiana) Public Library is part of the Libraries Transforming Communities Public Innovators Cohort, a group of 10 public libraries chosen to undergo an extensive 18-month training in the “turning outward” approach. Here, Library Director Emily Bunyan describes how informal conversations with Internet users led to a successful food drive.

The Close the Book on Hunger food drive was conducted in June 2014 and was the most successful food drive we’ve ever conducted. In Harwood labs in which I’ve participated, offered both for United Way and Libraries Transforming Communities, I’ve been reminded that "turning outward" is an approach, a way of thinking that becomes a natural part of the thought process. Here’s an example from the Knox County Public Library (KCPL). 

From January 1 to May 31, 2014, library patrons spent 8,069 hours using public access Internet stations in the library. The total number of sessions for patrons at these stations for that time period is 12,039. Many local citizens unable to afford Internet at home utilize the free Internet service at the KCPL for functioning in their daily lives. The KCPL and public libraries across the United States bridge the digital divide by providing Internet access to all. 

Janet Kitchin, Knox County Public Library staff member, talks regularly with patrons visiting the library to use the Internet. She realized, last spring, with the end of the school year approaching, that many of these patrons and their families would experience food scarcity. Kitchin attended our library’s board meeting in June 2014 and asked for approval to conduct the food drive and combine it with a fines forgiveness program. The board enthusiastically approved her project. 

For every nonperishable food item donated by patrons, $1 in fines was forgiven. Patrons donating a food item also received a $1 gift certificate to use at monthly Friends of the Knox County Public Library book sales. By the end of June, 1,321 non-perishable food items had been collected, $1,300 in fines forgiven, and 1,300 worth of gift certificates distributed for books. Staff members delivered the food items to food pantries throughout the county and a local bank donated $250 to the food drive.  

Staff members recently were approved to hold the second Close the Book on Hunger Food Drive during National Library Week, April 12 to 18, 2015.