Youngsters collect 200,000 pennies for charity

MIDDLEBURY — Seven years ago, the children of the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society (CVUUS) set off to do some charitable work inspired by a simple quote from Mother Teresa:
“We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”
Last week saw the payoff to a project that yielded a lot of small things — around 200,000 pennies, in fact — that collectively will do some great good for local and international charities.
“I think it’s pretty impressive,” Emerson Conlon said as he helped haul approximately 1,000 pounds of pennies from a truck into the National Bank of Middlebury’s Main Street office last Wednesday, Dec. 23.
“We have a lot of pennies here.”
Approximately 206,000 when they are all finally counted, which will be done with the aid of a special coin tabulating machine. It would have been a bit much for the CVUUS members to roll all the pennies into 50-cent increments, a project that might have taken them another year or two.
To make things simple, organizers set out a series of gallon jugs at the CVUUS meeting hall. Mitch Kramer, who helped spearhead the project, estimated that each jug could hold around 5,000 pennies.
Every Sunday, parishioners would purge their pockets of copper, tossing the orphan pennies into the jugs.
The original goal back in 2002 was to harvest one million pennies. But it soon became clear that 1,000,000 was a very large number indeed.
“It looked like a long road,” Kramer recalled. “The number (of pennies) was piling up, but at a slow pace.”
That’s when the group decided to settle on the smaller, albeit still impressive number of 200,000 pennies. It’s a yield that would still generate $2,000 toward worthwhile causes.
One by one, the parishioners filled, and retired, the jugs. The project hit an unfortunate snag in 2006 when someone stole eight of the jars.
“Somebody was desperate, clearly,” Kramer said, imagining the culprit trying to make purchases with $400 in pennies.
Thankfully, the theft was covered by the CVUUS’s insurance policy.
“The (CVUUS) treasurer asked me if we wanted the $400 in pennies,” Kramer recalled. The group instead elected to deposit the check directly into the account as “virtual” pennies, while also putting a little less “wear and tear” on their backs.
Bit by bit, the group closed in on its goal. Kramer and others periodically looked through the pennies to sort out anything that didn’t fit the specific penny profile. Miscellaneous foreign denominations were weeded out and exhibited to parishioners. And bank officials told the group not to fret about the small number of Canadian pennies that infiltrated the cache.
Two days before Christmas, Kramer and several other CVUUS members — including some of the youths that helped launch the project back in 2002 — unloaded the copper cargo at the bank vault. Some of the money will be earmarked for the “Pennies for Peace” initiative that benefits schools in Afghanistan. Another portion may be used for landscaping around the new CVUUS sanctuary.
Kramer said he liked the project because of its underlying theme of “little tiny things adding up. There is something about these small quantities adding up to something that will help somebody.”
Peter Lindholm also liked the simplicity of it.
“You come in, put a couple of pennies in the jar, and it’s always there,” said Lindholm, who, like Conlon, had seen the project through since the one-cent mark.
Annie Lindholm marveled as she helped march all the bags into the bank lobby.
“It’s pretty surprising,” she said.
Christine Wagner, deposit operations manager for the National Bank of Middlebury, said the group deserves a lot of credit. This isn’t the first time the bank has accepted a large shipment of pennies; Wagner noted Bridport Elementary School completed a similar venture to help bankroll some new playground equipment.
“It’s really exciting that they’ve worked so hard,” she said of the CVUUS penny collectors. “We are excited to accept their deposit.”

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