Magazine article American Libraries

A Million Pennies for Your Library

Magazine article American Libraries

A Million Pennies for Your Library

Article excerpt

Late in the fall of 1997, I became a trustee for the Delos F. Diggins Library in Harvard, Illinois, knowing full well that our small community just south of the Wisconsin border would be attempting to pass a referendum before the millennium for a new $2.9-million facility. I volunteered to head the youth division of the capital fundraising campaign, and soon found myself expressing my frustration to our fundraising consultant over not finding a realistic means of raising my division's $10,000 goal.

"Why not collect one million pennies?" the consultant suggested. "It's been done in other communities that I've worked with." Initially, I scoffed at the idea, but after considerable thought, I began planning the "How Much Is A Million?" project in July 1998 (AL, Nov. 1998, p. 36).

First, I drafted an introductory letter in English and Spanish for every Harvard pupil to take home on the first day of school. Photocopied gratis by a local printer, the letter explained that we would attempt to collect one million pennies in the first 100 days of the 1998-99 school year for the new public library on behalf of Harvard's children. I showed the letter to the superintendent of schools and the administrative council, and after consulting with school-district attorneys, they approved the district's involvement.

I wrote every teacher that summer, asking that they incorporate the project into their curriculum and gave a multimedia presentation on the $2-million referendum slated for November 3 (which subsequently passed). In response, every school readied collection containers, placing them in every elementary-school classroom and in the cafeterias of the upper schools.

Since we had settled on a weekly collection pickup for security reasons, my next hurdle was finding a place to house the pennies. The obvious place to store money, of course, is a bank. I phoned the three bank presidents, who agreed to display in their lobbies the five-gallon water bottles I'd convinced our local grocery store to donate as penny receptacles. I created foam tote-board displays and computer-generated graphics and clip art.

At a steering committee meeting, we decided that we'd enable students to keep track of how much their school was raising through a 3-by-7-foot tally graph, to which building-level coordinators would affix four-inch-wide clip-art pennies for every 10,000 pennies collected. Knowing that the youngest children would become committed to the project if they had a sense of ownership in it, I wanted to guarantee that every pre-K to 4th grader would place a penny in a classroom collection container that first day. My father provided two peanut butter jars full of pennies, which we counted into a reclosable plastic baggie for each class, along with introductory letters.

After months of preparation, the "How Much Is A Million?" project officially began on August 24, 1998. The total from the first week's collection astounded even me - 49,747 pennies. "At this rate," commented a 3rd-grade teaching colleague, "we'll make the million in no time!"

Indeed, during week two, 36,128 pennies were collected, and week three brought in another 28,549 pennies, bringing the grand total to 114,424. During those weeks, once again with district-level approval, we kept the project in the forefront of the school families' minds by displaying a library model and the architect's renderings at parent orientation events. The four elementary-school principals allowed two students apiece to help escort the weekly penny collections to the banks for tabulation and I personally delivered the collections from the upper-grade schools every Friday.

But when week five brought in only 17,853 pennies, we realized that we also needed to reach community members who didn't have school-age children. Local radio station WMCW gave me a weekly spot on the station's morning show and added a weekly article about the fundraiser to its daily news page. …

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