The Denison Public Library, city leadership and local nonprofits are celebrating the success of a new library program that brought in more than 400 food donations in its first year. Representatives with Center Cross Ministries and the Grayson County Shelter picked up the donations Wednesday with the help of Denison Mayor Jared Johnson and City Manager Jud Rex.

“This is just another example of our library constantly thinking beyond these walls in how it can affect the community,” Johnson said. “For those that question the relevance (of a library), I challenge them to come and spend a day in ours.”

Under the new “Food for Fine$” program, library patrons were able to donate canned and nonperishable food items in early April for credit toward library fines.

For its first year, the program collected more than 430 canned items, toiletries, hygiene items and other nonperishable goods for a local soup kitchen ministry and the Grayson County Shelter during the first two weeks of April, Denison Public Library Director Kimberly Bowen said. This was well beyond what organizers expected for the first-year event, she said.

“I was not expecting it to be that great in its first year,” Bowen said. “I was expecting it to take two to three years to get this level of response.”

Bowen said she got the idea for the initiative from other libraries across the country that had enacted similar programs. Bowen was designing a similar program at the Bonham Public Library when she took the position at Denison last year and brought the plans with her.

Under the program, library patrons were able to receive $1 of credit to their account for each donation of food or toiletries for up to $50 credit on late fees. Bowen said she was surprised that about $200 of credit was given, with the majority of donors asking for nothing in return.

Bowen said this approach was designed to “solve two problems with one can of peas” by meeting a need of food for the needy in Denison and eliminating a barrier that kept some people from utilizing the library. When patrons accumulate $5 of fines, they are blocked from checking out additional library material. In some cases, this leads to “a vicious cycle” where patrons who were unable to pay their fines would simply stop using the library, Bowen said.

Bowen noted that these waived fines will not be a major financial loss, as many times the library would not see the money at all as the fines would go unpaid.

On a daily basis, the Grayson County Shelter offers about 80 meals and houses between 20 and 30 residents on the north side of downtown Denison. As the summer months approach, Volunteer Coordinator Mikayla Stocks said she expects the number of residents to increase.

“We are overwhelmed with gratitude for how generous this community is continuously,” she said.

Stocks said she expected the goods and food items that were donated to last the shelter about a month. Stocks said donations are accepted year round at the shelter and added that milk, eggs, children’s toys and especially meat are always in demand.

In late 2016, Alan Bernard and volunteers with Center Cross Ministries served meals to many of Denison’s homeless through the library’s community room. In February, the operation moved out of the library due to a scheduling conflict and Bernard has been handing out lunches from the back of a truck throughout downtown Denison.

Since leaving the library, Bernard said his attendance has increased steadily, especially after he decided to start serving outside the Grayson County Shelter each weekday. For lunch Wednesday, Bernard served 68 individuals a meal of cabbage and beef, navy beans, cornbread and a cupcake for desert. In total, he said he has about 150 clients in the city of Denison.

In March, Bernard said volunteers regularly hand out more than 60 meals a day. Any time the charity serves vegetables with the meals, it takes about 20 or more regular-sized cans to feed their clients, Bernard said.

“We are so grateful to be a part of this,” Bernard said. “Like Mikayla, we know the community is so caring and gracious.”

Due to the success of this year’s campaign, Bowen said there are plans to expand the library program to three weeks next year. Additionally, Bowen has said she is considering corporate sponsorships and donations as a way to expand the program beyond its initial successes.