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City Finds Unique Way to Help Local Food Banks, Letting Defendants Pay Off Court Fines with Food


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One Montana city is again helping stock its local food bank by allowing court defendants to pay off some of their fines with food donations. 

The City of Butte started the program three years ago and it has been very successful. The project has brought in thousands of pounds of canned food for the Butte Emergency Food Bank, City Court Judge Jerome McCarthy told CNN

And it's legal. Montana's criminal procedure statute allows defendants to partially or fully pay off their fines with food donations. 

"A court may permit a part or all of a fine to be satisfied by a donation of food to a food bank program," the state's statute reads. 

Officials at the Butte city and justice courts decided that most of the defendants fined during the month of December could exchange a donation of 30 cans to the food bank to receive $150 off of their fine, according to CNN

Hundreds of defendants have participated in the program so far, the outlet reported. 

Judicial officials "thought that it'd be a good opportunity for folks to have, you know, a little bit less of a fine on their monthly payment" and "would also be of great benefit to the food bank," McCarthy said. It's "just a win-win situation."

Judge McCarthy said there's another bonus for the defendants to pay off their fines with donations. 

"It makes them feel a little better," he said.  

This year's donation-for-fine program began on Dec. 1 and ends on Dec. 21.  

The community has embraced the initiative, McCarthy told CNN

"The folks here in Butte, in my opinion, are extremely giving and willing to help folks, particularly those that are struggling, and so the community response has been very good," he said.

Food Banks Struggle with Inflation Costs as Demand Grows

As CBN News reported on Dec. 16, food banks and pantries nationwide are struggling to keep up with demand. 

Soaring food prices combined with fewer donations are leading to thinly stocked shelves. The impact is making it more challenging to feed the hungry, especially this time of year. 

"Our shelves are a little bare," Pastor Stephanie Parker of The Gathering at Scott Memorial United Methodist Church told CBN News. 

According to Feeding America President Katie Fitzgerald, "High prices will continue to drive more and more of our neighbors to food banks and food pantries as we enter the winter season." 

Meanwhile, donations have decreased over the last few months for many food banks.

Christopher Tan heads the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.

"Down pretty significantly, 20 percent or so in the last six months," Tan told us. "At the same time, we're down in food donations, we're also up in people in line."

Despite the challenges with keeping the shelves stocked, the team at The Gathering at Scott Memorial UMC trusts that God will continue to provide.

"There have been weeks that we're not sure how much food we're gonna have. And every single week God shows up," Parker said.

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of