The humble penny's days as useable currency may be over by decree of Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, but thanks to the efforts of intrepid Canadian schoolchildren, the one-cent coin is going out with a bang — or make that a jangle.
As part of a program, We Create Change, organized by international kids-helping-kids charity Free the Children in partnership with banking giant RBC, students from 2,100 schools nationwide began collecting errant pennies last September. The tally to date is 70 million pennies, amounting to $700,000, and counting.
Each sturdy plastic bag, distributed by RBC, holds 2500 pennies ($25), the amount needed to provide one person with clean water for life. The drive’s goal is to bag enough copper to provide 100,000 people in developing nations with access to a permanent source of clean water.
And the drive extends beyond just young people. From now until Saturday, Feb. 9, Canadians can bring in any amount of pennies in any kind of container to any RBC branch for donation to We Create Change. The previous drop-off date was Nov. 1 to Dec. 21. More will presumeably be scheduled since the penny drive ends in June.
During a rally yesterday (Feb. 4) — the day the penny was officially phased out — some 300 kids from eight Toronto-area schools wielding heavy bags gathered with members of the media at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School. They were also given small jars filled with pennies that they used as shakers to express their enthusiasm for making a difference.
There, they heard speeches from Toronto-born Free the Children co-founders Marc and Craig Kielberger; Ontario Lieutenant Governor David C. Onley; Toronto Argonauts vice-chair and retired footballer Michael “Pinball” Clemons; RBC group head of personal and commercial banking Dave McKay, and others, while learning how much money had been gathered nationwide to date.
The 70 million pennies collected by RBC weigh in at more than 32 elephants, according to the press material, and 28,000 people will now have access to clean water. The bags brought to the assembly by the students necessitated a Brinks armoured truck at the school.
“Young people like yourselves are fundamental to the whole process of Free the Children,” Lieutenant Governor Onley offered in brief but pointed remarks. “This morning, in the reception room while you were assembling here, refreshments were being offered to us — tea, coffee, juice — and we weren’t thinking about it at all. We just took it for granted that liquid refreshments would be available.
“And this morning, when you got up to brush your teeth or wash your hair, you — like me — didn’t have to think about water at all. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the majority of people in the world of every age, yours and mine, could not have to worry about literally where their next drink of water will come from?”
“I am so proud to be here with you,” hollered the indefatigable Clemons, who whipped the crowd into a chanting, whooping, call-and-responsing lather before reminding those assembled that “a team is a unit of one and we are all on the same team.”
Clemons cited his mom Anna Marie Bryant and Martin Luther King, Jr. (with whom he shares a birthday on Jan. 15) as personal inspirations after noting the grim reality that three billion people worldwide live on less than $2 a day.
One thing was certain, engaged kids can make a difference on a global scale by taking action within their own communities.
“Sometimes people dismiss young people as powerless, just like the penny. People say a penny is too small to change things; that a penny doesn’t matter,” shouted Free the Children co-founder Craig Kielburger with evangelical fervor as a video of his organization’s efforts digging for clean water played in the background.
“People walk past pennies, they won’t even stop to pick them up. But when you add enough pennies together — just like when you add enough young people together — something amazing starts to happen.”nike fashion