Depending on where you live, paying off your parking tickets could be a chance to give back to the underserved members of your community this holiday season. Towns, cities, and universities across the country are embracing food for fines programs: initiatives that allow residents to settle their parking debts by donating non-perishable food items.
Accepting canned goods in lieu of cash parking ticket payments isn't a new practice. Lexington, Kentucky has been running holiday food for fines drives since 2013. Even in larger cities, like Las Vegas, such programs have proven successful. Recently in Muncie, Indiana, the local police department used it as an opportunity to collect pet supplies instead of pantry staples.
The model has become more popular in recent years, and this holiday season, it will be easier than ever to find a food for fines program near you. In Bay Village, Ohio, a city located about 15 miles west of Cleveland, officials are looking for non-perishables to provide to the local Bay Food Ministry. Individual items are worth $5 in owed parking fines, with the town waiving up to $25 per person.
Universities are also hopping on board the trend. At the University of Colorado Boulder, students can donate five items to have their parking tickets forgiven. Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania has already collected more than 100 cans from students through its own food for fines program.
Many of the initiatives will run through this Friday and conclude ahead of Thanksgiving week, so if you have a parking ticket you need to pay off, contact your local parking services office soon to see if it's participating.
In 2010, Todd Bol’s neighbors gathered at his home in Hudson, Wisconsin, for what was intended to be an ordinary garage sale. But the most memorable piece among the offerings wasn’t a priceless antique or a flashy family heirloom—in fact, it wasn’t even for sale.
The item in question was a 2-foot-by-2-foot wooden box, painted to resemble an old-fashioned schoolhouse, mounted to a post in his front yard and filled with books. Bol had created it as a tribute to his mother, a former schoolteacher and book lover, with the intention of creating a small neighborhood book exchange.
People were so taken with the idea that Bol built a few more book boxes and gave them away. Then he partnered with his friend Rick Brooks to found an organization promoting his endeavor, which they decided to call the Little Free Library.
Inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s goal of constructing more than 2508 (full-sized) free public libraries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Bol and Brooks set out to mimic his work in miniature: By the end of 2013, they wanted more than 2508 Little Free Libraries in existence across the nation.
Little Free Library
Over the next two years, the hopeful founders saw the early enthusiasm from Bol’s neighbors mirrored in communities all around the world. With the help of media coverage from national outlets like NBC Nightly News, Bol and Brooks surpassed their goal in August 2012, and, by the end of that year, 4000 Little Free Libraries had popped up just about everywhere.
“I thought it was just a flash in the pan, like a pet rock,” Bol’s brother Tony toldThe New York Times. But the Little Free Library continued to see lightning growth, even after its founders were no longer spearheading the operation—Brooks retired in 2014, and Bol passed away from pancreatic cancer four years later.
Today, there are more than 90,000 registered Little Free Libraries in 91 countries, from Finland to Chile, Nigeria to Pakistan, and beyond. The organization has collaborated with authors like John Grisham, run promotions for films like 2019’s Little Women, and donated more than 1000 Little Free Libraries to communities in need with its Impact Library Program. Throughout all the expansion, its mission has remained remarkably unchanged: Take a book, leave a book, and strengthen your community through literacy.
“Whether you strike up a conversation with someone at your library or find a thank you note from a neighbor in your library, you’ll feel more connected to your community,” Margret Aldrich, author of The Little Free Library Book, tells Mental Floss.
The tiny libraries can inspire a new generation of book-loving humanitarians, too.
“When a child helps run a Little Free Library, they not only get excited about reading, they take pride in caring for the little library, keeping it neat and full of books, and realizing how wonderful it feels to share books and give back to their community,” Aldrich says.
There are countless ways to contribute to Little Free Library, which range from monetary donations to constructing your own book-sharing box. Read on for more information on how to get involved, and explore the Little Free Library website here.
Leave a few books in your local Little Free Library.
The Little Free Library has an interactive map where you can search for a nearby book-sharing box. If you live in the U.S., there’s probably one closer than you think.
As for deciding which books to contribute, that’s entirely up to you. According to Aldrich, children’s books “are often the first things to fly off the shelf,” and picture books and graphic novels are especially great for reluctant readers. For advanced readers, a few of her own personal favorites have been Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.
Establish your own Little Free Library.
For people looking to establish book sharing boxes in their communities, Little Free Library offers a wealth of resources, including building blueprints, installation tips, and more.
If you’re not quite comfortable making one from scratch, don’t worry—the organization has an online store with a variety of already-constructed models and several DIY kits, too.
Start an Action Book Club.
The free Action Book Club program encourages people to combine reading and community service. Essentially, you register your group here, you pick a book to read and discuss, and then you complete a service project in your community. After that, you can share your experience here for a chance to be featured on the Little Free Library website.
There are lists of recommended books and service activities to help guide your book club, but—as is always the case with Little Free Library—you’re also free to choose your own.
Donate to the cause.
Because Little Free Library is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, all monetary donations are tax-deductible. After you make a donation, you’ll receive a confirmation email that you can use as a receipt.
Your donations will go toward the installation of new libraries through the Impact Library Program, resources for Action Book Clubs, and more of Little Free Library’s philanthropic projects.
In 1995, when Karen Loucks read an article that mentioned how a “blankie” helped comfort a 3-year-old during chemotherapy for leukemia, she decided to donate some homemade blankets to a cancer center in Denver.
It was the beginning of Project Linus, an organization that has since grown to include an estimated 80,000 volunteers and has chapters in each state. Through its expansion, the original mission has stayed exactly the same: to provide quality handmade “security” blankets to children battling illness or trauma. According to Project Linus’s current president, Patty Gregory, they’ve given away more than 7.8 million blankets, and their annual total falls somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000.
Gregory’s involvement with the project began in 2000, when she happened to see Project Linus featured on television. Having just lost her 6-year-old niece to brain cancer, the idea of providing something safe and comfortable to children who were suffering really resonated with her, and she was soon working as the coordinator of the group's Kansas City chapter. In August 2016, Gregory was named president/CEO of Project Linus.
“These blankets provide a sense of security for children who are ill and traumatized,” Gregory tells Mental Floss. “It gives them something to hold on to, to hug.”
The blankets, many of which feature animals, whimsical patterns, and vibrant colors, also help break up the often monochromatic, clinical monotony of healthcare institutions.
Every blanket is knitted, sewn, or otherwise handmade by a volunteer “blanketeer,” and Project Linus is committed to ensuring that each one is in top-notch condition before delivering it to a hospital or shelter to be given to a child. Blankets must be new, washable, and completely free of contaminants like pet hair or cigarette smoke.
As long as you adhere to those quality standards and approach each blanket-making endeavor with care and kindness, you have almost everything you need to become a blanketeer yourself—no experience necessary.
“Anyone can make a blanket,” Gregory says. Project Linus’s website also includes an extensive list of suggested patterns from blogs, other sites, and individuals, ranging from “Lili’s Hug,” a weighted blanket pattern suited for children with sensory processing difficulties, to “Bulky Baby Blanket,” a “thick, squishy knit blanket to keep babies cozy in cold weather.”
If you’d like to practice a little before entering the ranks of blanketeers, or just don’t have time to commit to crafting, there are a couple other ways that you can support Project Linus, especially as they approach their busy holiday season.
You could make a monetary donation by mail or online here. In addition to needing funds for printing, shipping, and accounting, they also use donations to purchase blanket-making supplies. Or you could actually donate some of those supplies, like yarn, fabric, and cotton batting—just make sure to check with your chapter coordinator first to see what they might need.
You can find the nearest chapter or a blanket drop-off site here.