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Justice of the Peace Melissa Gallagher

Gallagher is pictured in the Deer Lodge Courthouse.

Next Monday, Deer Lodge City Court and Powell County Justice Court will allow people to reduce their existing fine amounts in exchange for non-perishable food items.

Headed by Powell County Justice of the Peace Melissa Gallagher, the “Food for Fines” drive will take place from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday next week only.

Five cans of non-perishable food items paired with $5 subtracts $25 off of a fine, but people can take up to $100 off with their one-time donation, Gallagher said.

“We chose to kind of do this around the holidays when money is tight and food banks are low,” Gallagher said.

This isn’t the first time Powell County courts have held a food drive like this. Over 20 years ago, Gallagher remembers Justice of the Peace Terry McGillis putting on a similar event. Gallagher was a Powell County deputy at the time and vowed that if she were ever Justice of the Peace, she would put on the food drive, too.

Now just over a year since she was sworn in, Gallagher's vow has become a reality. She plans to distribute the food collected evenly between existing food banks and pantries across Powell County and hopes to help reduce the nearly $500,000 in fines people owe.

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“Sometimes fines seem overwhelming, but maybe this can help people see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher said she also offers a community service program to help people reduce their fine amounts. And in May, she sent letters to about 60 people inviting them to a community service day where they could get $100 deducted from their fines if they helped pick up trash for about five hours.

Only six people showed up to work with Gallagher, but she said she plans to try a similar event next September. She said she hopes to continue the “Food for Fines” drive again next year, too.

“Defendants are held accountable for their actions, but I understand life happens,” Gallagher said. “If you can’t pay what you promised me, contact me and we can work something out.”

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