Unpaid parking ticket? Pay with food instead of cash

For the second year in a row, Lexington, Kentucky, is accepting food bank donations as payment for parking tickets. Other cities have adopted similar programs.

Ryan Blackwell - Public Opinion
Billie Tice, left, and Amber Breneman help other volunteers make food donation bags at VFW Post 41 in Chambersburg, Penn. December 2014.

During the holiday season, officials at the Lexington Parking Authority in Kentucky, also known as LexPark, have enacted the “Food for Fines” program, which allows residents to pay off parking tickets with canned foods.

Those who donate 10 canned food items to either LexPark or the Lexington Police Department between Nov. 16 and Dec. 18, can receive a $15 credit on any outstanding parking ticket.

“It’s a great way for citizens to clear their record and help those in need at the same time,” Mr. Means said in a statement.

First enacted last year, LexPark Executive Gary Means says citizens donated more than 6,200 cans of food. The success of last year’s program encouraged local leaders to instate the program again this holiday season.  

“During this time of year when lots of Lexingtonians are looking to give back to their community, it’s wonderful to see organizations like LexPark engage with our food bank in creative ways to fight hunger and deliver hope,” Marian Guinn, CEO of God’s Pantry Food Bank, said in a statement.  

In a 2014 study by Oxfam America and Feeding America, an organization of food banks across the US, found that 54 percent of all households, or 25 million people, who utilize food banks to survive have working family members. 

“And while many of us think of those using food banks as destitute or homeless, the reality is much different,” Feeding America explains.   

The success of Lexington’s program may have inspired other cities to adopt similar ideas. 

In March, Stillwater, Minn. designated a month-long cans-for-tickets program, with the same equation as Lexington: 10 cans pay a $15 parking fine.

The commission signed off on the program in time to support the Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign. During the month of March, the city usually generates $3,000 in parking tickets, which equates to 2,000 potential canned goods.

“I think we’re the first city in the state to do this,” Tracy Maki, executive director of Valley Outreach, a food bank for the needy in Stillwater, told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press last February. “It’s creative, forward-thinking and kind of fun.”

Albany, N.Y., enacted a similar program in September, but instead of paying off parking tickets completely, the Albany program only allowed canned good donations to compensate for unpaid tickets’ late fees. If drivers with unpaid tickets pay them during the two-month donation period, the city will waive the late fees that automatically kick in after 20 days.

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