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The Daily Tar Heel

Orange County Public Library turns fines into holiday giving

The department has run a program called Toy Chest for more than five years, but the need is still growing.

To support the program, the Orange County Public Library organizes its “Food and Toys for Fines” holiday drive, in which library card holders can deduct or erase their library fines through donations, each year.

The drive started Monday and will go through Dec. 12.

A large amount of library fines get erased this way, said Lucinda Munger, director of the Orange County Public Library.

“It’s a nice way for people to pay down their fines by giving back to the community,” she said.

There are more than 7,000 children in Orange County living in low-income households, Munger said.

The Department of Social Services has organized holiday programs providing gifts to low-income families for more than 20 years. Before the program, social workers could only provide gifts for a few families, said Sharron Hinton, community resources manager for the department.

To help more families, DSS started to partner with the Toys for Tots Foundation and has served as the coordinator for Orange County, said Hinton.

Now there are more than 50 collection boxes for Toy Chest throughout the county.

Donations are collected from the community, and financial contributions from individuals are used to purchase toys, she said.

“We have a database of all of our low-income families,” she said. “They are either receiving food stamps, Medicare or Health Choice, and we send those families a letter letting them know when the Toy Chest will be operational.”

In 2013, the department provided about 6,200 toys to more than 3,400 children, Hinton said.

This year, more children are eligible for the program.

“The parents who participate in the program are extremely grateful,” she said. “Without this program, many of their children would not have gifts for the holiday.”

Pat Garavaglia, one of the owners of Balloons and Tunes in Carrboro, said she has supported the program since its inception.

“I can’t even imagine a holiday without it,” she said. “It makes my holiday.”

Toy Chest opened at 10 a.m. last year, but people began arriving the night before.

“People started lining up at 5:30 in the evening the night before just to make sure they’ve got something good for their kids for Christmas,” Garavaglia said.

She also said the need is greatest for children who are six to 12 years old because people tend to buy gifts for younger children.

“Every time this year, I feel so lucky to live in the community that we live in, that is generous and caring and does so much for other people,” said Garavaglia.

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This year the Toy Chest will distribute on Dec. 20 and Dec. 21 at the Orange County Department of Social Services in Hillsborough. In addition to toys, food, books and pajamas will also be provided.

Information about collection site locations can be found online, and toys can be purchased through