First, the good news. Free The Children, an international charity based in Toronto, has already rounded up 70 million pennies during its nationwide penny drive. By the charity’s math, that’s enough to provide 28,000 people in developing countries with clean drinking water for life.
“The 70 million pennies collected so far show just how enthusiastically Canada’s youth have taken this campaign to heart," said Free The Children founder Craig Kielburger in a release.
Other charities are hoping for similar results. Tim Hortons is running a penny drive for its children’s foundation as an extension of its ongoing coin jar program. The coffee company’s website says coin boxes already bring in about $1 million in pennies each year.
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Ronald McDonald House is another charity that turns loose change into tidy profits. Spokeswoman Roxanna Kassam Kara says she’s hoping Canadians will donate more nickels, dimes and quarters as pennies disappear.
And it’s not just big charities that are looking for pennies. In Winnipeg, Villa Rosa, a residence for prenatal and postnatal care for young women or new mothers in need, has started its own penny drive.
"Some of our young moms who come in don't have all the supplies they need to get them through their pregnancy and day-to-day living," says executive director Kathy Strachan.
Fewer coins, less profit?
The pennies will help pay for the small stuff, like deodorant and body lotion — "the kinds of things that a lot of people just take for granted but we don't have a budget line for," Strachan says.
Some charities, however, are concerned that having fewer coins in circulation will hurt their fundraising efforts.
Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, which trains dogs for the visually impaired, uses life-sized coin collectors in the shape of golden retrievers and Labradors to collect coins at shops across the country. The organization raises about $300,000 in coins every year — a large portion of which is pennies, says spokesman Steve Doucette.
“This year might be OK, but going forward it may hurt us,” Doucette says.
On the plus side, there are still a lot of pennies out there. The Royal Canadian Mint estimates it will recover six billion pennies as the coin is phased out, meaning there’s $60 million or more out there for charities to chase.
Penny for your tweets
In Ottawa, Steve St. Pierre has launched a Twitter account, @CDN_penny, that started as sarcasm but quickly spun out into a strong advocate for charities. St. Pierre uses his tweets, and the hashtag #showyourroll, to encourage people to donate their pennies to the charity of their choice.
"If I've done anything to bring the penny back to the forefront of people's minds and just doing something for a good cause, then I think that's pretty awesome," St. Pierre told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning.
St. Pierre’s Twitter alter-ego, meanwhile, is still alive and snarky.
“Carly Rae Jepsen apparently trades me for a kiss. I did not agree to this,” the penny tweets.