Kelly Fry had a tradition with her grandparents while growing up in Denver. Whenever they came to visit, they would bring her a mason jar filled with pennies. She and her grandparents would sort through them, looking for collectables such as wheat pennies, then dump them into a large piggy bank.
For years, Kelly, now 34 and working as a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and her mother Kim, a parishioner at St. Joseph Parish in Golden, have wondered what they should do with the vast collection. While tough to estimate, Kim guessed they collected more than 10,000 pennies over the years.
“Maybe closer to 20,000,” she told the Denver Catholic.
After reading about the philanthropy efforts of Chandra Starr, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at St. Stephen School in Glenwood Springs (“A Harvest of Hope,” Denver Catholic Jan. 31-Feb. 6 ), they knew.
When Starr was just 5 years old, she and her mother, Kimberly Starr Walker, became homeless in Glenwood Springs when fleeing an abusive environment. They spent their days in town, but in the evening Walker would bundle her daughter up, load her into a cart on her bicycle, and trek three miles outside town to a campsite that served as their temporary home.
“When we were homeless there were no shelters because I had a small child,” Walker said. “We just didn’t get what we needed.”
While they eventually secured housing and Kim employment, the memories endure.
“Chandra remembers the cold snowy nights,” her mother said.
In hope of helping others experiencing similar hardships, Starr is working to raise $10,000 to support families and children in need of temporary shelter on the Western Slope. With a team of classmates from St. Stephen’s and friends from nearby Carbondale, she recently launched her second Million Penny Project, this one called Chandra’s Hope.
Starr gained national attention last year, including an interview with correspondent Ann Curry on “NBC News,” during her inaugural campaign, the Million Penny Project for Growing Food Forward. A penny at a time, in buckets placed at local businesses, along with a GoFundMe crowd-funding site, Starr collected nearly $20,000 to support the nonprofit community gardening organization that coordinated the building of 100-plus gardens that provide produce to needy families in the area. Starr was recognized in Scholastic News’ list of “8 Coolest Kids We Met in 2014” last December, along with other honors in the community.
Kelly and Kim, inspired by Starr’s work, jump-started her most recent campaign March 9 by donating their penny collection. Kim met Starr and Walker in Morrison to unload the unusually heavy contribution.
“Chandra is such an amazing young lady,” Kim said, as she transferred buckets and containers from her car to Walker’s. “I really wanted to help out.”
Starr and Walker, in an arrangement with a Glenwood Springs bank, will have the pennies counted and deposited.
Through Chandra’s Hope, they anticipate working with Catholic Charities Western Slope in Glenwood Springs, one of the organizations that helped them when they were homeless. According to Marian McDonough, regional manager at the Charities’ branch, there are no permanent overnight shelters in Colorado from Grand Junction to Denver. However, during the coldest months—mid-November through mid-March—there are short-term overnight shelters including one at St. Mary Church in Aspen.
There were 103 adults and 20 children under the age of 18 in temporary overnight shelters or safehouses in Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties Jan. 22, according to a point-in-time count by Charities.
“The temporary overnight shelters typically house 15 to 25 in Aspen, and average about 25 to 30 in Glenwood Springs each night from mid-November to mid-March,” McDonough said.
Starr was recognized by Catholic Charities Western Slope last November as the youngest recipient ever of the Msgr. (Thomas) Dentici Friends of Charity Award for outstanding volunteer service.
For more information on The Million Penny Project: Chandra’s Hope, visit their Facebook page or GoFundMe site at www.gofundme.com/mjamog; or make a donation in one of the buckets placed at more than 50 businesses in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale or Rifle. The campaign will run through June 15.
The Million Penny Project: Chandra’s Hope -> By the Numbers
Standard-size penny box=8 ½” long x 4” wide x 3 ¼” tall
Weight of a box of pennies=10 pounds
Value of a box of pennies=$25
Boxes needed to reach $10,000=400
Weight of 400 boxes ($10,000) of pennies=4,000 pounds
When the campaign is completed, the pennies collected will be delivered to the Denver Mint by a volunteer to potentially go back into circulation.