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Food for Fines thrives

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Speed demons and traffic miscreants get a chance to pay off fines and feed the hungry in exchange for a donation of creamed corn, candied yams or other non-perishable items during Thursday's "Food for Fines Day" at Missoula Municipal Court.

Between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 3, a can of food will earn offenders $5 off their city tab. (The deal doesn't apply to restitution or court fees.) A five-can limit is in place, making for a $25-maximum credit. All food donations go to the Missoula Food Bank.

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"It's actually a good deal all the way around," says Municipal Court Manager Pat Morgan.

The first Food for Fines two years ago reaped 10,000 pounds of grub, making it one of the most successful food drives for the food bank that year.

"We had food everywhere," Morgan says.

Concerns about the program's legality barred the court from conducting another drive in 2008. But the Montana Legislature stepped in last session and expressly gave the program the green light. Morgan anticipates this year's event to be even busier than 2007.

"I think we expect the frenzy again—in a good way," says Missoula Food Bank Development Director Nick Roberts.

Roberts says the Missoula community has stepped up during the recent economic downturn to help the Food Bank avoid any empty cupboards. Although demand is spiking, donations are keeping pace, and Food for Fines can only help.

"You can't argue with the immediacy of giving hungry families food," Roberts says. "You can't minimize the significance of that."

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