By Stacia Kalinoski
SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — You may cringe at the site of meters when trying to park in downtown Eugene. Now parking meters are also coming to Springfield. But plugging these ones is not only optional, it also goes toward a good cause.
You’d normally find a parking meter outside, but with this program, you don’t have to pay to park. Instead, the meters are inside businesses like Goodyear in Springfield.
The program is called Change for Change. They donate your spare change to help St. Vincent de Paul help the homeless.
Plugging someone else’s parking meter may have caused a little bit of controversey in Eugene not long ago, but across the river, they’re begging people to do it.
Businesses on Friday unveiled the Change for Change meters, an idea brought forth by community activist Shirley Gauthier. She says she swiped the idea while on a recent trip to Denver visiting her daughter.
“I immediately said to her, ‘I want this program in Springfield, Oregon. My community needs this program,’ ” recalls Gauthier.
You won’t find these new meters outside on a sidewalk. They aren’t being put up to pay for your car. Instead, you have to go inside one of the sponsoring businesses, like Goodyear, to plug one and ensure that your spare nickels, dimes and quarters will help feed your hungry neighbors.
“We have a new homeless — a homeless that’s embarassed by their situation,” Gauthier explains. “Homeless families that have never been in this situation before, and it’s really hard for them to go to the foodstamp office.”
But they’re showing up in droves to St. Vincent de Paul, which has seen a 75 percent jump in demand for services since last July.
“We need to step up and do whatever we can to help our neighbors,” says Terri Leezer from Springfield City Council.
In Denver, Gauthier says the program has virtually eliminated pan-handlers. Residents were encouraged to feed the meters instead of giving it to the local street folk.
“Advocates can do much more with the dollar you have in your pocket than giving it to a panhandler,” said Gauthier.
City leaders hope Springfield residents are willing to pitch in because in their downtown, parking is free. You’ll only find meters at a dozen or so locations around Springfield for now until other businesses sign on.
While most meters will be indoors, leaders do plan to have a few traveling meters for big outside events. Leezer says the city of Denver generates $100,000 a year from this program, but she’d be happy for Springfield to make just a fraction of that.