A Pocket at a Time

On the sidewalk, face up. Beneath the driver’s seat. In a recycled peanut butter jar on the sill by the front door. Hidden in the laundry pile. These are just some of the places where children can discover an easy way to help animals and their environment, as part of TogetherGreen’s Third Annual Pennies for the Planet campaign, sponsored by Audubon and Toyota. In the first two years of the campaign, over $50,000 were raised for different conservation projects. Last year, kids sent in the equivalent of 2,765,622 pennies to help protect Florida panther habitat at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, install snowy plover signs (designed by children) on California beaches, and plant marsh grass to stabilize Louisiana’s disappearing marshlands.

Now three more worthy projects need some spare change, and this year the focus is on migrating species and their stopovers. In Nebraska, sandhill and whooping cranes—birds that stand taller than many kids—rest on gravel bars along the Platte River, but because of reduced water flows, some stretches of river need to be cleared and weeded. In Arizona, 200 pennies can purchase a milkweed plant to benefit monarchs on their migration to and from Mexico. And on Mississippi beaches, pennies will provide signs and sun shelters to protect the vulnerable eggs and chicks of least terns, a species that may have been affected by the Gulf spill. Imagine all those pennies traveling across the country, from one hand to the next, from register to pocket to hand to purse; now imagine them being carried on the wings of these animals, so to speak, as they migrate.

The way it works is that, from now until August 11, kids collect change—quarters, nickels and dimes need not be left out—and, in the end, trade in their collection for a check from mom, or their school. (Don’t burden those poor postal service employees with unliftable boxes of pennies—the cardboard might cave in!) The donation is good for a huge number of creatures, and there are some incentives to boot—for instance, Audubon will throw a Bio-Bash at the school that gathers the most pennies. Whoot! It's also a great way for kids to learn about running a campaign and to dive further into science.

But please, remind your kids: Wading through public fountains, to scoop up those copper Lincolns, is just not acceptable, even if it is for a great cause. They should stick to other commons, such as the living room couch.

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