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Perham penny collection drive a success, even if short of goal

A live video link connects the fifth graders to Pastor Paul Anderson in Iraq.1 / 2
Students present a check to the Perham VFW.2 / 2

After a year of penny collecting, Prairie Wind Middle School fifth graders tallied up their total and divvied out their impressive collection of copper coins at a special event on the last day of school, June 5.

The final amount raised was 516,805 pennies--over half a million pennies and over $5,000.

"Although that is only a little over half of what we originally set out to raise, we still consider the project a success," fifth grade teacher Kelly Collette says of the project. "First of all, the students do have a real grasp of just how big a million is, after seeing, packing and lifting a half million pennies. Secondly, over the course of a school year, a bunch of ten- to twelve-year-old students raised several thousand dollars for the benefit of their school and others. How could anyone not call that a success?"

The students brainstormed 55 ways to give the money away (not counting the schools). Through a series of votes, that number was narrowed down to four Perham schools and 12 other charities/causes.

Representatives from Relay for Life, the VFW, Someplace Safe, Perham Memorial Hospital and Home, and even Miss Perham Karlie Miller, on behalf of Feed My Starving Children, were in attendance at the June 5 penny give-away assembly to receive checks. Fifth graders read a brief summary of why they chose to support each of the charities before handing out the money.

One of the most memorable parts of the assembly was the live video link established with Pastor Paul Anderson in Iraq. The students decided to give $200 worth of phone cards to be used by soldiers serving with Anderson. The intent was to give the soliders an opportunity to speak with their loved ones back home.

Anderson's daughter was chosen to speak with her dad via the live video link, and the camera panned the room so Anderson could see all of the students gathered for the celebration.

Anderson noticed the sweatshirts some of the kids were wearing, and told them it was 122 degrees in Iraq the day before.

"It's like you're going into the clothes dryer when you step outside here," he said in good humor.

Like all of the other recipients of the penny-money, Anderson sincerely thanked the students for their gift, adding how the phone cards will encourage many troops.

The remaining amount of money earned from the penny collection project was designated for some end-of-the-year activities for the fifth graders to celebrate their accomplishments and for treats for United Community Bank workers. Anything left over when the account is closed will go to Prairie Wind Middle School.

"United Community Bank went above and beyond throughout this project," says Collette. "They exchanged so much cash for pennies that by the end of May they were nearly out of pennies at the bank."

After the fifth graders stopped collecting pennies, the bank delivered the coin rolling machine to the school. They ran that machine for five school days, almost non-stop. UCB employees delivered more wrappers and boxes as needed, helped with technical problems, and even picked up loads of pennies when they didn't have the time or muscle to deliver them to the bank.

"The kids got pretty good at running that machine and packing pennies into $25 boxes, but they were not always quite perfect," Collette comments. "The bank staff cheerfully and patiently fixed any mistakes the students made. United Community Bank opened a checking account for our money and gave us printed checks at no cost. This project truly could not have succeeded without their help!"

"We also are extremely thankful for the assistance of the schools, individuals, families, and businesses that collected pennies for us," Collette adds.

Some of those businesses are: Perham Bakery, Westside Services, Main Street Express, Perham Cenex, Perham Tesoro, Thrifty White Drug, Perham Chamber of Commerce, Perham Rotary, Pizza Ranch, Mulligan's, Zorbaz, Napa Auto Parts, The Wild Goose, Landmark Liquors, Nootzie's, Richville Rocking Horse, Barrel O' Fun, and United Community Bank.

Recipients and donation amounts chosen by the students

Perham High School--$800

Prairie Wind Middle School--$800

Heart of the Lakes Elementary--$800

Perham Early Childhood Family Education--$200

Hats Off to Kathy--$100

American Red Cross--$200

Feed My Starving Children--$200

Ronald McDonald House, Fargo--$200

Relay for Life (549 school district team)--$200

Perham/New York Mills City Pound--$200

Perham VFW--$200

Someplace Safe, Perham--$200

Perham Food Shelf--$200

Perham Memorial Hospital and Home--$200

Phone cards for soldiers serving with Pastor Paul Anderson--$200

American Heart Association--$200