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Parking meters don't get much love.

These coin collectors relentlessly count down the time until a driver is left with a ticket — or even has to retrieve a towed car from a junkyard.

But three parking meters downtown have a different career path: Collecting money for a good cause.

Signs on these blue meters urge passers-by to relinquish their pocket change to help the homeless. Every month or so a city employee cracks open the meters — on West Street; near the old Post Office on Church Circle and near Market House — and collects between $30 and $60.

About once a year, after $500 or more is collected, a check goes to the Light House shelter. The most recent check was for $580.

The money can be used for anything the Light House wants.

Since the money isn't tied to grants or programs, the annual payment is funneled directly into the shelter's general budget, said Elizabeth Kinney, the program's executive director.

"We love the meters," Kinney said, heavily emphasizing "love."

"This money helps the Light House pay its incredibly dedicated staff."

The Light House offers the homeless food, a warm place to sleep and job training. A new 50-seat bistro, being constructed at the shelter's old Annapolis location, will provide culinary training as well as food for dinner guests.

The meters went up in 2008 and continue to pull in a steady stream of revenue, said Wayne Rowland, who collects that money monthly.

Emptying the meters takes just a few minutes. The most popular is the one on West Street, Rowland said.

"The amount of money changes depending on the time of year," he said. "It is a good idea."

Then-Mayor Ellen Moyer had the meters installed after she saw a similar program in another city. The idea required little overhead — just some old meters and signs.

Moyer said it was a way to offset some of the costs of local charities, done at a time when the city didn't have the resources for the homeless it has today.

"Any little bit of money that is collected in the blue meters that can be used for these programs is still helpful," Moyer said. "If you have extra change in your pocket, put it in the meter."

So the next time you pass the meters and hear loose change jingling in your pocket, you can use it to help the homeless get job training or a warm bed on a cold night.

But coins only, please — no paper money.

"One time someone put a dollar bill in (a meter) and blocked it up," Rowland said. "It really stopped it up."