Have you heard of Common Cents? It’s a non-profit organization based in my burg, New York City, that encourages school children to “harvest” the pennies in their neighborhoods—that is, the pennies most of us have sitting in a jar that just keeps getting heavier and heavier. Cool idea, right?
The kids put notes under the doors of their neighbors saying that they are running a penny drive. Then, on the appointed day, they stop by to pick up any pennies their neighbors would like to donate. It’s like the Girl Scout cookie drive: Knock knock. Who’s there? A cute little kid doing some good in the world.
Even better, once a whole school has run its drive, the kids themselves research and decide where the pennies – now hundreds of dollars — should go. To a homeless shelter? Food pantry? School supplies for kids with none?
The whole process gets them thinking about the world and participating in democracy. But to me, the best part is that it gets them out in their communities, connecting with their neighbors. (Yes, the way I used to do when my mom sent me out to collect donations from our neighbors for the March of Dimes.)
Anyway, it’s the harvesting part that I want to tell you about.
One little girl had done her bit and given all the neighbors in her apartment building the note that explained the project and that she’d be coming by. She happens to live in public housing.
On the appointed day, she was knocking on this door and that, and when she went in the stairwell to climb up another flight, she was surprised to find, Scotch-taped to each step, a penny!
She followed them up, up, up till she got to the next floor. There, a line of taped pennies led down the hall. They stopped at a door. She knocked on that door and – an old lady answered.
“Why did you leave a whole trail of pennies?” asked the girl.
Replied the old lady, handing her a jar: “I didn’t want you to miss me!”
Now, if you’re like most folks (including, I must admit, me), you probably worried that the pennies led to a Hansel & Gretel-type situation. And I suppose if your kids are going to do a penny harvest, it’s best for them to go in pairs. (Click here to go to find out more about Common Cents.)
But a little old lady like this reminds us all: Most people not only ARE good, they want to DO good. And, as Common Cents and common sense both suggest: this only happens when we connect.