Salt Lake County wants to give local emergency food pantries a needed boost, so it will conduct an unusual food drive in conjunction with National County Government Week, April 7-13.

Besides donating food at any county-operated facility that week, Salt Lake County libraries will conduct an "amnesty day" Saturday, April 13. Anyone who has an overdue book, checked out in 1991, can return the book and a non-perishable food item in a non-breakable container and the fine will be forgiven."Demand (for emergency food) has gone up sharply," said Richard K. Winters, director of the Community Services Council, which operates the Salt Lake Food Bank. "When you have an economy that's soft, people in the lower income get hit pretty quick. Even when, overall, things look all right."

Last year, an average of 10,000 emergency three-day food orders were filled by area pantries each month. In the first three months of 1991, the number had increased to 12,000 a month.

"We have food," Winters said. "But it's going down more rapidly than it has in recent years."

One of the largest local food drives, sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, can generally be "stretched" to last until the next drive, Winters said. This year, "we'll be lucky if we make it to summer."

"This is our first food drive for the county," said Jeri Cartwright, public information director for the county. "A lot of people worry about the homeless and hunger during winter, but people are hungry all year round. This is a good time to do something about it."

All 15 of the county's libraries will participate. The libraries periodically sponsor amnesty days to get books back, but they don't like to do it often. "Frankly, we rely to some extent on the money," said Evelyn Tuddenham, library public relations officer. "But with this, more than just the library will win. People who contribute food will feel good about it and it will help the community as a whole."

Books must be taken into the library and food donated in order to get the amnesty, Tuddenham said. Putting items in the book drop won't work.

Winters encourages other organizations to put together food drives as well. "The Food Bank is the focal point for people who want to contribute food," he said. "We supply the eight Community Action Program pantries as well as another eight to 10 pantries locally. And we are concerned about the food situation right now. We're hoping for as much food as we can get."