Parking ticket recipients in Old Town happy to pay with food donations
Old Town Police Sgt. Jim Fearon was checking his Facebook page three years ago when a friend of his shared an article about a city in another state where food donations were accepted in lieu of parking violation fines.
“I showed the article to Chief [Scott] Wilcox,” Fearon said. “He brought it to the City Council, they thought it was a great idea and enacted it as policy.”
Flash forward three years and Old Town’s tickets-for-food program has become a staple of the community.
It works like this: Anyone who gets a ticket for parking illegally in the city, including violations of overnight restrictions, parking in a fire lane, blocking sidewalks or fire hydrants etc., has the option of paying the $20 fine or bringing in $10 worth of food, which in turn is donated to local schools and charities.
“The vast majority donate the food, and most donate $20 worth,” said Fearon, who has been with the department for nearly 13 years.
An administrative assistant with the department validates a copy of the ticket when food comes in. A school resource officer takes food to schools. Crossroads Ministries in Old Town receives occasional food donations as well.
“I think it’s a very good idea,” said Ron Murphy, board president of Crossroads Ministries. “Between now and spring is the hardest time of the year for people. People eat more pasta and sauce and things like that this time of year. It is a big a big help.”
Fearon said people who learn about the ticket-for-food program the hard way are invariably glad to help.
“We had one downtown resident who chose to not get a downtown parking permit because he didn’t want the money to go to the city. He got at least 20 tickets and he said he felt better knowing he’d be helping people,” Fearon said.
With winter and the holidays coming around again, the program is picking up pace.
“Some nights in November and December we’ll issue 10-15 tickets a night, depending on if [University of Maine] students are in town,” Fearon said.
Fearon estimates the department issues “at least a couple of hundred tickets” a year, which means the donated food is worth a few thousand dollars. Asked if the city is concerned with the lost ticket revenue, Old Town City Manager Bill Mayo pointed out that not everything of value is measured in money.
“Not at all,” Mayo wrote in an email. “I believe the food assistance is a much greater benefit.”