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The Power of Pennies

By Kim Pozniak and John Taylor

When 6-year-old Paden Huntz at St. Therese Little Flower Church in Kansas City, Missouri, heard about the devastating earthquake that ravaged Haiti in January, he knew right away that he wanted to help.

St. Ignatius Loyola Academy in Baltimore, Maryland

Students at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy in Baltimore, Maryland, raised more than $1,300 for the people in Haiti. Photo courtesy of Mary Trichter

"We are collecting money for Haiti because of the earthquake. We are going to mail it all the way to Haiti in a big plane. When the earthquake came, all their buildings crashed and people lost their homes."

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 near the capital, Port-au-Prince, killed more than 200,000 people and left hundreds of thousands more injured and homeless.

When Paden heard this news, he planned big.

So did his friends. Twelve-year-old Gabriel Brock explains, "We have two jars and are having a competition. A lot of kids like competition and this way will donate more." And another student, Alexa Hamilton, adds, "We want to help children, grown-ups, elderly and everyone that is hurt. We hope they can start over and have a new life. I feel sorry for them. If that were me, I would want people to help me."

Two weeks later, the children of the St. Therese Little Flower parish started a campaign to raise funds for earthquake survivors. "Although the parish had already participated in the diocesan special collection for Haiti, this was a way for the children to experience the fact that they too could make a difference while putting their faith in action," says Father Ernie Davis, pastor at St. Therese Little Flower.

The diverse urban parish is known for its welcoming community, where parishioners show their care and concern for all those who walk through their doors—as well as the poor far away. While resources are limited in this small community, generosity is not.

'God's Superheroes'

The children took their fundraiser a step further and encouraged their families and friends to help. During the presentation of gifts at Mass, parishioners were invited to come forward in front of the altar and drop their change into jars that soon became too heavy to carry.

"I pulled the wagon with the money to the front of church so people could put more money in for Haiti," says Valerie Miller, a third-grader in the parish's Sunday school program.

Another student, Jesse Frazier, who is currently preparing to receive first Communion, proudly adds that he had collected more than 400 pennies.

"First I collected them just to have money. Then Sunday school announced there was going to be a collection for Haiti." Jesse did not hesitate to give his entire collection. "It was my first time donating money and today I gave another dollar."

The children at St. Therese Little Flower parish in Kansas City, Missouri

The children at St. Therese Little Flower parish in Kansas City, Missouri, collected hundreds of dollars in coins to be donated to Catholic Relief Services' relief efforts in Haiti. Photo by John Taylor/CRS

When asked why he donated, Jesse says that we need to "think of the children who have not been found yet." He then adds, "We do this because of God. We want to be God's superheroes. It's all in a day's work for Missouri people."

A Desire to Help Those in Need

Several states away at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, a tuition-free Jesuit middle school for boys from low-income families in Baltimore, students raised more than $1,300 for the people in Haiti. The students organized a "Hope for Haiti" contest between homerooms with a goal to raise $300 in two weeks.

The boys, most of them inner-city youth from single-parent households, put pennies in their advisor's jar to earn points, and dimes, nickels and quarters in their opponents' jars to deduct points from their opponents. One of the students asked for his allowance, one month's worth, in pennies to add to the jars. By the end of the first week, they had raised $500 and a challenge was issued to double the goal. At the contest's end, despite the interruption of two major snowstorms canceling many days of school, they had raised $1,393.

Like many of their peers, the students at St. Ignatius wanted to help those whose lives were impacted by the devastating earthquake. The children—who have so little themselves—were willing to give what they had, raising more than four times the original goal. Motivated only by the prize of an "out of uniform" day and the desire to help those in need, the young men of St. Ignatius Loyola Academy lived up to their school motto of being "Men for Others."

Small Change, Big Hearts

At Villa Academy in Seattle, Washington, students also collected spare change to help support the relief efforts in Haiti. Organized by the school's Student Emergency Response Team, the "Change for Haiti" fundraiser was promoted in every classroom and yielded more than $4,000. "It felt really good to know that I helped raise so much money, and that I helped raise awareness about it," says one of the students, an eighth-grader. The students collected 10 bags of coins, weighing a combined 200 pounds, along with $1,595 in bills and another $585 in checks over the span of two weeks.

Another eighth-grader quickly realized the power of pennies and how even a little could make a big difference.

"It felt good to know we were helping others. Doing a change drive was cool because even the smallest amount helped and added up to a lot."

The schools are sending their donations to Catholic Relief Services, supporting a major emergency response that has so far provided food, water and emergency shelter to more than 700,000 people.

The outpouring of generosity by Catholics all over the United States provided a tremendous amount of support for a collective and coordinated humanitarian response. CRS is committed to carrying out this response over the next five years, totaling approximately $200 million. With more than 50 years of history in the country, CRS can build upon existing relationships and a network of partners to support the Haitian people in their recovery.

Back at St. Therese Little Flower, someone asked middle school student Gabriel Brock why he wanted to collect money for the people of Haiti who are so far away. His reply: "If we don't, then who will?"

Learn more about CRS' response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Kim Pozniak is a CRS communications officer based in the agency's headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. John Taylor is a program and advocacy officer for CRS' Midwest office in Chicago, Illinois.

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