COLUMN: Need for 16th campaign still exists

NANAIMO: Pennies for Presents campaign hase raised nearly $154,000.

Since taking over the duties of co-ordinating the Nanaimo News Bulletin’s annual Pennies for Presents campaign this year, my respect for the campaign and those involved, while already great, has grown.

This is the campaign’s 16th year and in the past 15 years – thanks to the efforts of volunteers, students, businesses and the general public in Nanaimo – we’ve been able to raise almost $154,000 to help ensure no child is left empty-handed Christmas morning.

We do this by collecting pennies and whatever other change or bills people are willing to donate.

The money is then distributed to three charities that benefit Nanaimo children – the Great Nanaimo Toy Drive, the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Club of Nanaimo.

Every day I hear the magical sound of pennies being poured into buckets at the News Bulletin office, coming in via milk cartons, plastic bags, coffee tins and even an old wine bottle.

I want to say a huge thanks to everyone who has taken the time to come in and drop off their change, both here and at our community drop-off points. Small change really adds up to a lot at the end of the day.

It is rewarding to see all of the public support for the campaign.

Also fun is hearing all of the stories people have about previous years.

Our production manager had to break into an aluminum beer keg with a hammer and a screw driver to get at the pennies collected inside one year.

The assistant editor once dropped a five-gallon bucket full of pennies in a school entranceway – even though students were hastily recruited to help him pick them all up, it still took a long time.

The campaign’s volunteer drivers – Pete MacDonald and Ian Thorpe, who pick up the pennies and transport them first to the volunteers at Berwick on the Lake to roll, and then to TD Canada Trust in Terminal Park shopping mall for deposit – have received some interesting donations over the years.

Mixed in with the pennies are tokens to operate almost every machine that can be found in the city. Dozens of foreign currency coins also crop up every year.

Pete remembers one business collecting pennies in a large fish aquarium. When it came time to pick up the loot, he had to scoop them out of the aquarium and into small buckets because it was impossible to lift the tank.

Pennies are heavy when collected – I’ve learned to use my knees and only half-fill a five-gallon bucket of pennies to ensure I don’t throw my back out. But all of the heavy lifting is worth it.

Why is having a present to open at Christmas time so important?

As Carolyn Iles, publicity director for the Great Nanaimo Toy Drive said, it is all about hope.

In our materialistic society, the odd child out is the one without a new toy or game to bring to school and show friends, the one who didn’t get a visit from Santa, not even coal.

It is all about the anticipation – seeing the present under the tree and wondering what is contained inside – and the joy of receiving something intended just for you.

Christmas morning was – OK, continues to be – a magical time for me, when dreams came true, and it is sad to think some children could be denied a similar experience.

So it feels good to work on a campaign that makes such a difference in our community.

Hopefully, one day, there will be no need for the campaign. But, until government succeeds in eliminating child poverty, I will continue to empty my pockets each year.

And since the federal government has stopped making pennies and will soon stop circulating them, it is a good time to get rid of the copper coinage and support a good cause at the same time.

More information on the News Bulletin’s Pennies for Presents campaign can be found at