Student nonprofit collects foreign change for Boys & Girls Club

Maddie Burakoff , Campus Editor

When Weinberg junior Evan Taylor was returning from a family trip to Mexico, he said he remembers his mom running around the airport to spend their leftover pesos on unnecessary trinkets. That moment got him thinking about how much foreign currency gets wasted by people when they return from trips.

“That really blew my mind,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential here. We could potentially raise money and make a difference in the community.”

Upon returning to Evanston, Taylor said he decided to recruit some friends to put that money to good use. In September 2016, Taylor and his team founded Community Currency, an organization dedicated to collecting and converting foreign change for charitable causes. The organization became a 501(c)3 nonprofit later that month, said Taylor, now the president and CEO.

Community Currency announced Wednesday that the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago would be its beneficiary. The currency that is collected and converted will go toward sending socioeconomically disadvantaged Chicago children to summer camps run by the Boys & Girls Club, said Robinson Markus, the organization’s director of research and a former Daily staffer.

“Those camps have time and time again demonstrated that they’re a very effective tool for combating summer learning loss,” the Communication junior said. “(We will be) working to ensure that every child, regardless of the home they grew up in or the resources that their family provides them, are given a fair shot.”

Community Currency joined Northwestern’s startup incubator The Garage last Winter Quarter, he said.

Billy Banks, associate director of The Garage, said the team has since evolved to move from earlier planning stages toward implementation.

“Most nonprofits rely on grants or donations,” Banks said. “They actually identified a market anomaly, if you will, and found a way they could convert unused currency that’s sitting in people’s sock drawers … into funds, and recycle those funds back into the community.”

One of the nonprofit’s main goals, on which they have been spending a “tremendous amount of time,” is establishing collection receptacles in major airports, especially O’Hare International Airport, Markus said.

Community Currency estimates that $100 million in wasted foreign currency passes through Chicago airports every year, Taylor said, with about $90 million coming from O’Hare and another $5 million out of Midway International Airport. By placing three bins at O’Hare, Markus said the team believes they could bring in $95,000 per year with minimal marketing.

The team was working over the summer to establish contact with airports, but has not yet solidified a partnership, Markus said. While getting collection bins in airports is the “real goal,” Community Currency is pursuing different avenues of collecting money as well, he said.

The nonprofit recently launched a partnership with the Office of Undergraduate Learning Abroad at the beginning of the quarter to place receptacles in affiliated buildings for returning students to donate their leftover currency, Taylor said, and has raised a couple hundred dollars over the course of a few weeks.

Community Currency also has collection boxes at The Garage and Global Engagement Studies Institute, and has reached out to nearby schools including Loyola University Chicago and DePaul University about the possibility of expanding, he said.

The Community Currency team is “really excited” to work with its newly announced partner, Taylor said, and believes through the Boys & Girls Club they will be able to make “formative, long-term” change.

“We’re all very passionate about the importance of education in young people’s lives and some of the gaps that exist in Chicago between different communities in terms of education,” Taylor said. “So we really wanted to do what we can to bridge that gap and provide everyone with opportunities to get a good education and make their lives better in the future.”

Alexis White contributed reporting.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @madsburk