Lonnaah Whitfield wanted just one thing for her 11th birthday — to make the day special for someone else.
Instead of asking for gifts, the Burr Ridge Middle School fifth-grader asked her mother to take her grocery shopping on Dec. 7, where she spent the money that might have purchased her birthday gifts on food for the Indian Prairie Public Library’s Food for Fines program. The program allows those with overdue fines to pay those fines in food rather than in money. The food is then donated to local food pantries.
But Lonnaah knew that for some, even a can of corn or a box of cereal was beyond their means.
“Some people struggle. They don’t have money right now,” Lonnaah said.
So she filled a cart with 125 cans and boxes, some of which came from her own family’s pantry, and posted a sign that offered the food to anyone with a fine to pay.
“It’s my birthday, and my gift is for you,” read Lonnaah’s sign.
She included her picture — a face that Lonnaah’s mom, Ladina Whitfield, said most people at the library have probably seen before.
“She lives there,” Whitfield said.
She said her daughter loves the library and likes to make gifts, including rubber band bracelets, for those who work there.
The next day at school, Lonnaah was able to see for herself the joy her gift had created. A little girl with four overdue movies accepted Lonnaah’s gift and offered her thanks.
“I can’t even describe the smile on Lonnaah’s face,” Whitfield said.
Lonnaah’s donations were among 3,463 items collected through this year’s Foods for Fines program, which ran Dec. 7 through 15. The program allows patrons to donate one item for each dollar owed in overdue fines. The food is then donated to pantries at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Our Lady of Peace churches in Darien.