Penny Wars

A pathy is one vocabulary word Olivia Ruby hasn’t learned this year.

Ruby, a student in Michael Thorton’s third grade class at Whitehall Elementary school, was instrumental in starting a fundraising effort that rose $2400 for victims of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan.

Students at the school spent the week before spring break collecting all their loose change – not to mention all the loose change of their parents and grandparents – as they participated in a fundraising effort school librarian Sara Lestage dubbed “Penny Wars.”

The efforts started after Ruby saw a news story about the crisis in Japan.

“I was watching the news and saw how bad it was,” Ruby said. “I wanted to help.”

So she came to school and starting hanging up signs asking people to donate money to help the people in Japan.

Lestage saw the signs and decided to lend a hand, helping Ruby organize “Penny Wars.”

The idea was simple; make the fundraiser into a competition in which each class tries to outdo the other by collecting more change.

As a reward, the winning class would earn a Pajamas, Popcorn and Movie party.

The idea took off.

Each morning, after they hung their coats and backpacks in their cubbies, students rushed past the main entrance, eager to dump their change in one of seven jars, each corresponding to a different grade level.

Some students would come up with a handful of change; others came with full Ziploc bags and fistfuls of rolled pennies.

Some even threw in bills of varying sizes, including a couple of twenties and even a fifty dollar bill.

There was one little catch; pennies and dollars counted toward the final count while nickels, dimes and quarters subtracted from the final count.

“They been going around sabotaging each other,” said Lestage.

One student could be heard saying “sixth grade is going down,” as he threw a handful of silver change in the sixth grade jar last Thursday.

The project proved to be extremely popular among students.

“They’ve been incredibly enthusiastic about it,” said Lestage. “After Monday I decided I needed bigger jars.”

By Wednesday evening the class had raised $800. By Thursday, Lestage decided to bring in her luggage so she could wheel all the money to her car at the end of the day.

Principal David St. Germain described the effort as “unprecedented.”

“It’s a good message to send to kids that they really can make a difference,” Lestage said.

All the money that was collected was given to the business office who will write a check to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

 “I hope they (the Japanese people) can buy the things they need to survive.”

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