UPDATE: 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 6.
Brady Bauer, a 22-year-old former aerospace engineering student, paid for $180 in parking tickets with 10 cans of soup, five cans of fruit and five cases of ramen noodles.
Today was the final day of the week-long Food for Fines program, a giving opportunity that allows University of Florida students, faculty members and others to pay for their parking citations with food donations. While final totals will not be available until Monday, as of Friday afternoon, the program brought in roughly 9,455 items, according to AnaLee Rodriguez, marketing specialist with UF Transportation and Parking Services. She projected more than 10,000 by the close of today.
The Food for Fines donations go to the Field and Fork Pantry, a food pantry at UF. Rodriguez said this one-time opportunity was launched this year, in part, to improve the department’s perception, which is widely known for writing tickets. However, Rodriguez pointed out that the employees also provide beneficial services such as jump-starting dead batteries.
The average campus parking fine is $35 but can go as high as $250 for parking in a handicap space, said Rodriguez, and sometimes higher. The program does not limit the amount of ticket fines that can be cleared, but four specific citations are not included in the program: boot and tow fees, bad check fees, use of lost or stolen decals and false registration.
Rodriguez said that donations were slow on Monday, attributing it to a sense of skepticism. She said many thought the program was an April Fools’ Day joke. But Tuesday and today, the stream of people donating food and pantry items has increased.
John Diaz, a Transportation and Parking Services employee and UF graduate student, said one individual paid off $600 in fines through the program, which is the highest amount he has seen. He said that all tickets this week have been paid for with food.
On Friday, all donations will go to the Field and Fork Pantry to benefit UF students, faculty and staff. According to Steve Orlando, university spokesperson, the pantry opened in August 2015. Orlando said the pantry is in an out-of-the-way place on campus partly to protect the anonymity of people who use it.
“Not a lot of people know about it, but the people who need it know about it,” Orlando said.
Since its launch, the pantry has had more than 18,000 visitors and distributed more than 143,000 items, Orlando said. Those items include canned foods as well as items such as toiletries and even diapers.
The pantry also distributes fresh produce grown by the UF Community Farm. Kristina Zakarkaite, a UF plant science junior, said volunteers and interns harvest food from the gardens every Monday and Thursday and donate the fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs to the pantry.
“I think if it helps the pantry, it’s a good way to get students involved and be aware of students [who] are in need,” Zakarkaite said.