I always found spare change annoying—nickels, dimes and pennies weighing down my wallet, not really useful for anything. Often, when paying cash for a purchase, I would rummage through the change pocket in my wallet, trying to find exact change to unload on the cashier and lighten my wallet.
But my relationship to spare change totally changed this winter, when I was the “mystery visitor” in my daughter’s preschool class. Since a significant part of my job this year has been the development of a tzedakah curriculum for middle school students, I figured that it would be easy enough to teach the class about tzedakah. And so I read them The Very Best Place for a Penny, a charming story about a penny that gets put in all the wrong places until it finally ends up in the very best place for a penny—the tzedakah box, where it can be used to help people. After the story, we decorated tzedakah boxes, and then I gave each child each a penny to start off their tzedakah collections.
My daughter loved my visit to the class, and for the next few days, in order to reinforce the lesson of the story, I found myself looking for any opportunity to create spare change. I paid in cash at the grocery story in order to give the change to my daughter, so that we could say, “Where’s the very best place for a penny?” and then put the coins in the tzedakah box she had decorated. I even picked pennies up off the street in order to give us more opportunities to give tzedakah.
A few months have passed since my visit to her class, and I’m not as vigilant anymore about making spare change, but I do collect coins all week long so that on Friday afternoon, when we give tzedakah before Shabbat, I have ample coins to distribute to my daughters (the younger one likes to get in on the action too) to put in their tzedakah boxes.
Right now, the girls’ boxes are still filling up and we haven’t gotten to the question that occupies me about my own tzedakah practice—where should the money go? But I’m enjoying being with my daughters in this stage—eagerly collecting money, not because they think they need it for themselves, but because they can use it to help others. And I hope that their experience of enthusiastically putting coins in their boxes serves as a foundation for generous and joyful giving throughout their lives.