Paying parking tickets with food donations: A win-win scenario?

Parking tickets can be paid with donations of canned food through the Food for Fines program in Lexington, Ky. It helps the hungry but also appeals to people's need to feel that they make a difference.

Al Behrman/AP
A shopper walks down the canned soup aisle at a grocery store in Cincinnati. A parking authority in Kentucky has a program allowing parking violators to pay fines with canned food donations.

Charity equals parking ticket forgiveness in Lexington, Ky., as a Food for Fines program that began last year generated such community goodwill that it is being replicated

As part of the Food for Fines program, residents can receive a $15 credit toward parking fines for every 10 cans they donate, Beth Musgrave reported for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The Lexington Parking Authority started the Food for Fines program last year, but it was so successful that it was expanded to include all parking tickets from police or the city. 

"Last year citizens brought in over 6,200 cans of food as payment for over 600 meter citations," said Lexington Parking Authority Director Gary Means in a press release. "We hope by opening the program up to all types of citations, we’ll see those numbers increase this season."

The program not only provides supplies to assuage the immediate needs of the hungry, but is also a creative marketing campaign for the local food bank. 

"It’s wonderful to see organizations like LEXPARK engage with our Food Bank in creative ways to fight hunger and deliver hope," said Marian Guinn, CEO of God’s Pantry Food Bank, which will receive the donations, in a press release.

Libraries have done food-for-fines programs for years and generally found them to be a good way to remind people to return books on time, even while reinforcing the positive, community-centered image they want. 

A library in Williamsburg, Va., tried a food-for-fines program almost two decades ago, after complaints about library due dates and late fines. The library started waiving fines in exchange for cans of food donated by patrons, Amy Ford wrote in the journal Marketing Library Services.

"The positive public relations response that the library receives far exceeds the small amount of money and staff time that the program requires," Ms. Ford wrote. "Staff morale improves, and now circulation staff receive far fewer complaints about fines."

Even though profits were not the goal, the program reinforced the library's image as a community-focused, equal-opportunity center for learning, and this improved its ability to function. 

Any organization can improve its standing with the public using philanthropy, Abagail McWilliams, a professor of strategic management at the University of Illinois at Chicago tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview.

She says people are becoming more sophisticated in their approach to social responsibility. Even Hell's Angels motorcycle club does an annual Toys for Tots, showing that even organizations that don't appear to need profits can still sell their image with good PR.

"I think that people are understanding better," she says. 

The push toward social responsibility in the marketplace means that corporate brands are becoming more likely to take positions on various issues. At the same time, municipalities that turn parking tickets into opportunities to give can experience the same kind of boost in public perception.

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