Local church collects “Pennies for Poverty”

Sammy Caiola

Pennies add up.

That’s what First United Methodist Church has learned over the past two years, during which it has collected 1,470,000 pennies – $14,700 – for six different organizations.

Most of the money collected by the church’s Pennies for Poverty program has already been donated: $10,000 to a project in Ghana and $1,000 each to four local organizations. One other donation is in the works, and the organization hopes to keep raking in the pennies indefinitely.

First United Methodist Church, 516 Church St., has been collecting small change from congregation members for the past two years. Its first effort involved spending more than a year collecting 1 million pennies, or $10,000, for the Mo-Dega Agricultural Project in Ghana, said Jim Young, chair of a committee at the church’s Mission & Outreach Committee. The donation helped farmers buy seed and equipment and coincided with the congregation’s biennial service trip to Ghana.

After the success of the million-penny donation, the committee decided to shift its efforts toward alleviating local poverty. The congregation draws many of its members from Evanston and Chicago.

Young said organizations in these areas are experiencing a growing need for financial aid as poverty levels rise.

The committee takes suggestions for beneficiaries from congregation members, many of whom are involved in other charity organizations. So far, Pennies for Poverty has donated $1,000 each to Connections for the Homeless, Evanston School Children’s Clothing Association (ESCCA), the Youth Job Center and Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc. Young said raising that sum can take anywhere from four to eight months.

“Members of the congregation appreciate and value the work the organizations are doing,” he said. “They like the idea of supporting the local community in a way that’s tangible. It’s something that’s really worthwhile.”

Pennies for Poverty is currently raising money for The Night Ministry, a Chicago-based outreach program for at-risk adults and youth. In the last two months, it has collected 70,000 pennies for The Night Ministry. Bob Jordan, a member of First United Methodist Church who was on the board of directors for The Night Ministry, is scheduled to hold a discussion at the church this Sunday to talk about the organization’s efforts.

Pennies for Poverty also provides volunteers, Young said. After the congregation donated $1,000 to ESCCA last year, they sent six to eight volunteers to help the staff sort clothing for children in need.

Most of the money from Pennies for Poverty went toward buying new shoes, undergarments and jeans for K-8 students enrolled in Evanston schools, said Enid Shapiro, co-president of ESCCA.

“We were just really thrilled to be a recipient,” she said. “It was a wonderful program and it really helped us. $1,000 is a lot for a very grassroots, very local organization. It’s quite a boost for us.”

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