The Story of a Penny,
and How it Changes the World
What's a penny, really?
Something you see on the ground, but usually ignore.
Something that finds its way into the bottom of your purse, collecting lint and sticky stuff.
The change that helps you pay the tax on your snack or your cheeseburger.
(Even though I remember buying individual pieces of candy--"penny candy"--with it when I was young, you can't really buy anything with it these days.)
But if you really think about it, a penny's identity is really so much more complex than that.
Ten pennies makes a dime.
One hundred pennies makes a dollar.
Five hundred pennies makes five dollars.
And one hundred thousand pennies makes one thousand dollars.
(I'm, however, getting ahead of the story. Let me take you back a little bit and tell you how I learned that a penny really can change the world.)
About a year ago, the children in our church started out with a project and a challenge to collect a whole lot of pennies. They were gonna collect--from themselves, from family members, from church members, from anyone they could manage to get them from--enough pennies to stretch a mile in length.
We did the math and figured out that a mile of pennies would equal out to around $850 (which, if my math is correct, adds up to more than eighty thousand pennies). The kids quickly understood that it was A LOT of pennies...but, as children are likely to do (much more so than adults), they just as quickly grabbed hold of the idea and figured that they could certainly gather a mile's worth of pennies.
And what made the quest even more exciting was the ultimate goal of their penny-collecting. The money was going to go to Heifer International, an amazing organization that provides animals--it started with cows, but now includes a whole slew of livestock--to underprivileged parts of the world.
The animals go to South America, and Africa, and Eastern Europe, and even parts of the United States...places where food is at a minimum, the land is hard to live on, and animals (and all the nourishing things they can provide--milk, fur, meat, fertilization, energy) are a luxury. The animals give people a chance to make a change in their lives; they truly can rescue a family from poverty and re-energize entire villages.
(Really: if you are looking for a place that can do wonders for your donations, consider Heifer International. Their website--click HERE--can fill you in on all the details.)
And, so, the collecting of pennies began.
Sydney began looking for them everywhere.
She'd find them in bathroom drawers and on the floor of our utility room. She'd collect them when we'd get change from the store. And she got Gary trained in collecting them at his office (he apparently had a cute little jar that his co-workers got used to depositing their Lincolns in). And, every couple of weeks, we'd take an envelope or a ziploc baggie full of pennies to church.
At the same time, other kids were doing it too. And soon, we had boxes and bags and more boxes and bags full of pennies all over that children's area at church.
What seemed like an impossible task started to seem possible, as piles and piles of pennies began to add up.
As they began to pile up, they couldn't just sit there and take up space...they needed to be rolled. And so began a loving act of service by our dear friend Freddie (this is the mother of our close teenage friend, Raymond; Freddie died unexpectedly six months ago of a heart attack). She would take pennies home every Wednesday and Sunday from church and her husband told me this past week that he'd often wake up in the middle of the night and wonder where Freddie was. Invariably he would find her in the living room or at the kitchen table--at 2 in the morning, sometimes--rolling pennies.
And, a year later, we had met our goal. Or, as Sydney has been real sure of telling anyone who will hear, "We got even MORE than a mile." (She's right...we ended up collecting $1,066 dollars worth of pennies!)
Sydney has also harped on one particular theme throughout this past year. She was determined that we would be buying chicks with the money; she wanted a village to have eggs to eat and, besides, she kept telling me that "baby chicks are so cute."
This past week, the kids got together with a representative from Heifer International and they picked out the animals that they would buy with their money. Sydney literally bounced up and down when the lady showed chicks on the slide show, as she explained the different animals we could afford with the money we had raised.
When all was said and done, the kids voted and were able to purchase:
* The Milk Menagerie (consisting of one water buffalo, a cow, and two goats)
* A pig
* A share of bees and geese
* A group of 20 chicks
We could not believe how much we were able to get with our money, and we were so excited to know that our pennies were going to be able to do so much for people who really need it.
(Some other cool facts about the animals: the cost of the animals also includes training for the people to know how to use them the best they can; water buffaloes are wonderful choices, because they provide milk and fur, are used as pack animals and as aids to farming, and then ultimately provide meat; each animal is pregnant when they are given away, and the people who receive them are encouraged to pass the new animal along to their neighbor after it's born).
As a group, the kids went to our local bank and delivered the pennies (bags upon bags of them!), and on Sunday they provided a check to Heifer International for our animals. They dedicated the money and the project to the memory of Miss Freddie (it was said: "She touched every single penny in these bags with her fingers"), and we all cried as we realized how a simple act can make such a difference.
The project has made a huge impact on me, as it's made me realize that oftentimes it's the small things that make the big difference.
When we look at the problems in our world...when we look at world hunger or abject poverty, for example...we see a problem that is Too Big for our brains to wrap around. We say, "There's no way I can stop hunger," because the problem seems too unmanageable and difficult.
But when you look at it in small increments and in a practical way, you can then begin making a change. You can put together a gameplan to make a difference.
Who would have thought, after all, that a penny could steamroll into a bunch of pennies...and that those bunches of pennies could change lives?
My challenge to you, then, is...
The next time you spot a penny on the ground of a parking lot or in the folds of your living room couch, don't ignore it.
Pick it up, consider it, hold it, and then think about how you can use that penny to make a difference.
You might just surprise yourself.