Every Wednesday, a small group of students at St. Marcellinus Secondary School get together after school with coin collections and compare their haul.
Nothing rare or fancy for these kids; they just want you to empty out your wallets and hand them those everyday copper Canadian pennies.
The Penny Project – the name of the Mississauga high-school collecting group – is after 13 million pennies, one for each person that some estimates say died in the Nazi genocides, including six million Jews.
It all started back in December of 2008 when a Grade 10 student raised his hand in Susan Carey’s history class.
“He said, ‘Miss, what’s the Holocaust and who is Anne Frank?’ ” Ms. Carey said. “And I was just so shocked and thought how could you possibly not know this?
“And then it hit me. These kids weren’t born when the Holocaust happened and, in all likelihood, neither [were]their parents.”
Determined that her students would not forget the lessons of history, Ms. Carey decided to launch the Penny Project and since then, the students have collected approximately 780,000 pennies.
And even though school year does not officially launch until Tuesday, the Penny Project students were in school one week early to plan for the big back-to-school push to recruit new students. The goal: To collect one million pennies, or $10,000, by Halloween.
From movie nights and pledge walks, challenges and amazing races, the students were rolling in ideas. One Grade 12 student, Monica Bujas, by sheer determination and perseverance, collected $88 in two hours, just asking people for change at a corner in Brampton.
“I was just standing at some random corner in the neighbourhood, and people were just interested and gave money,” she said, modestly. Now, the Penny Project is reviving a contest, which challenges students to beat Monica’s tally.
Ms. Carey also brings in Holocaust survivors to speak to the students about their past.
“When you hear someone say, ‘And that was the last time I saw my mum or sister,’ it just cuts through you and makes you realize how important it is not to forget that it [the Holocaust]happened,” said Elysia Martini, a Grade 11 student. “And you don’t want to forget that, you know, similar things are happening all the time ... bullying in schools, prejudice, racism.”
The project has even expanded beyond the school walls. Ms. Carey said the project has received donations from a local Legion branch, churches and synagogues, with some donations coming in from as far as Winnipeg and Ottawa.
At their Wednesday meetings, usually 20 to 30 students package the pennies into rolls of 50 and dump them into boxes the size of a brick.
The students hope to eventually create a wall of these boxes in the school foyer that will function on several levels: a wall symbolizing the ghettos of the Holocaust, a memorial to the victims and a thank-you gesture to Canadian veterans who fought in the Second World War. All the money collected will go toward genocide awareness and relief programs.
“I think what’s really special is that even though I started the group, the students have really taken ownership of the Penny Project,” Ms. Carey said. “In some ways, it’s become much bigger and significant for the students ... and to think, all I did was want to cram as much history into their heads as I possibly could.”