Students at New Mexico State University can either pay up or opt to give back to a local pantry.
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Peanut butter smears
Credit: Maren Caruso / Getty Images

Countless college students have felt the pain of trying to park on campus, regardless of where that campus is. Either there aren't any spaces available, the ones that are unoccupied are a million miles from where you need to be, or both. And then there are all of the different offenses that you can get ticketed and fined for, from permit-only violations to overstaying your allotted welcome. (Trying to remember what parking lots were off-limits at what hours preoccupied a ridiculous amount of my time as an undergrad.) 

But New Mexico State University is giving its student body a break this week, and is offering to waive the cost of some parking citations this week in exchange for several jars of peanut butter. According to the NMSU Parking website, from Monday, November 29 through Friday, December 3, anyone who's received a "No Current Permit" ticket can pay the fine by taking at least 80 ounces of peanut butter to the University's Parking office. 

Those donations will be given directly to Aggie Cupboard, a food pantry that provides free food assistance to the NMSU community, including students, faculty, and staff on the University campus, as well as those at the adjacent Doña Ana Community College. "It means a lot to the Aggie Cupboard," Amanda Nunez, a program specialist for the organization, said. "We function mainly off donations, so to see that a department is willing to give rather than take is very humbling. It is a form of paying it forward." 

Although the parking website doesn't list the fine for "No Current Permit" citations, they do expect students to fork over $35 in fines and administration charges for "No permit displayed or wrong zone," and for "All other parking violations not stipulated." If that's the going rate for "No Current Permit," then the peanut butter thing is kind of a deal; the Albertsons website lists a 40-ounce jar of Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter for $6.99, so picking up two saves a few bucks, and it also helps the local community. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, other colleges have launched similar (if temporary) schemes. In 2019, the students at the University of Colorado were allowed to make good on their parking fines by donating five canned goods, which were all given to the Harvest of Hope food pantry. And earlier this year, the University of Kentucky accepted food or personal care items in lieu of library fines; students and other library regulars could have up to $20 in fines waived through the program — and even some fine-related academic holds could be removed by making a proper donation. 

Some cities have even gotten behind the effort. Lexington, Kentucky has run a "Food for Fines" program that let residents get $15 off their fines for every 10 canned goods they donated. And from mid-November through Friday, December 17, the Brook Park (Ohio) Parking Ticket Holiday Exchange will let locals get out of one parking ticket by giving five cans of food or one boxed toy. (They can also get a break on the cost of having a block removed from their registration: a donation of 10 canned goods cuts the price from $60 to $30.) 

Maybe it's time we just invent a parking meter that accepts non-perishables.