Downtown donation ‘meters’ collect $900


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The nine purple “donation station” parking meters in downtown Iowa City have raked in $900 for local nonprofit organizations in eight months.

And soon, they may become public artwork.

The city installed the donation stations in June 2010, just before the panhandling ordinance took effect. Because some said the restrictions might affect homeless panhandlers’ income, the meters give people an alternative way to donate money to six area nonprofits.

Linda Severson, the human-services coordinator for the Johnson County Council of Governments, said plans are in the works to let artists take over the refurbished parking meters and transform them into public works of art.

Other communities with donation stations, such as Colorado Springs, have allowed artists to paint and decorate the meter heads, Severson noted.

Decorated or not, the nine meters bring in anywhere from $15 to $80 each week, Severson said.

The Free Lunch program, Free Medical Clinic, and the Johnson County Crisis Center received the money from June through November. Shelter House, United Action For Youth, and PATH will receive the meters’ profits from December through May.

“I wasn’t expecting great amounts of money,” Severson said about the donation stations’ profits. “It’s an option. We’re not saying that people can’t give their money to panhandlers.”

By comparison, Denver has 85 meters, which bring in $15,000 annually. Denver’s meters helped inspire Iowa City’s donation stations.

Sandy Pickup, codirector of the Free Medical Clinic in Iowa City, said her organization appreciates the funding from the meters.

“Every little bit does help and I think that even though it’s kind of a small way, it gives some awareness,” she said. “People have to walk by and go, ‘What’s that purple parking meter for?’ And they find out about the organizations in town that help people.”

Iowa City City Councilor Terry Dickens said he puts money in the meters whenever he has spare change.

“It’s raised a lot of awareness on where donations need to go,” he said. “The money that goes into the meters isn’t the biggest thing.”

In addition to the meters, from Feb. 14 to 28, downtown businesses will collect money for the Iowa City meter project. Participating stores will display red “Small Businesses Have Big Hearts” posters in their windows and will offer specials and discounts for shoppers who donate.

Joni Schrup, the owner of Discerning Eye Optical, said her business will participate in the campaign.

“I think this is a great way for downtown businesses to be able to give back to the community,” Schrup said, noting that her business has collected cans for the Johnson County Crisis Center in the past. “Anything we can do to help those less fortunate, we’re all about it.”

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