The slight man stood on the corner of Madison Avenue and 86th street leaning on a crutch, his brown, wrinkled hand stretched out into the pouring rain toward me and all the other people rushing by him. “Spare pennies, Ma’am? Spare change, Sir? God bless you! Have a nice day!” his gentle voice sounded, even though most people didn’t give him anything, let alone looked at him. I too just passed him, clutching my umbrella, noticing that sting of privilege I often feel when I see people who are down and out and don’t do anything to help them. I had no cash in my pockets, only a metro and Visa card. Pennies?, I thought to myself, what the heck do pennies get you these days?
Just a few steps further on, my legs stepped to the side, as if acting independently from my brain, and standing under an awning I began to frantically search the crevices of my pocketbook for stray coins. It’s just ridiculous that I don’t have some spare change to give him, or a few forgotten dollar bills, I thought, upset that I hadn’t planned ahead better, the way I do when I walk in Jerusalem, always prepared to give some coins to those in need. I found one dime. My thumb and index finger clasping LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST embossed on the tiny silver circle, I thought, a dime? What’s a dime? It’s nothing…It’s not enough. I was too embarrassed to go back to the corner to give the beggar the dime, and so I stuck it back in my bag with a shrug and walked on.
I can’t get that moment out of my head. I should have given him the dime of course, because it does add up. Eventually.
Back home in Maine I see a big Ziplock bag on my boyfriend’s dresser. It is filled with the kind of stuff that can collect over time in the bottom of drawers, like receipts, dental floss, business-cards and, yes, crumpled yarmulkes. But the bag was also heavy with coins. I poured them all out and began organizing the pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters in $1-piles, the beggar on 86th street watching on. When I was done, I counted 22 of them. $22 can buy some serious chow, in the right place.
And then I had an idea.
The Pennies Project will be my way of making a small drop of difference in the vast ocean of needs. I’d like to collect pennies (or nickels, dimes and quarters, or, fine, dollars too!) from anyone who wants to hand some over, and who like me, don’t always have it handy at the right moment; I will count them and turn them into $1, or $5, or $10-piles, and donate to people in need when my path crosses theirs. And that is happening, has happened, does and will always happen everywhere I walk: in Maine, New York, Oslo, Paris, or Jerusalem, and all the places in between. I don’t want to find myself in a situation again, when I can’t give when asked. If you want to be part of the project, let me know, or check out The Pennies Project Facebook page.
Have ideas for The Pennies Project logistics? Tell me what they are! I haven’t gotten that far yet, and obviously, that is a necessary thing. A work in process, TPP started as just a tiny drop of an idea, and like the dime I held in my hand, with your help it can add up to make a difference.
Pass it on!
What a fantastic idea! I’ve heard of people putting all their spare change in a jar every Shabbat and then donating the jar once it’s full, and it seems like a great way to get family and friends involved 🕯🕯 Or even just setting change aside after a meal instead of saying grace would be a nice way for secular families to practice mindfulness, gratitude, and charity 😊