Today I have a little story followed by an idea that I want to share with you all.

A few weeks back I stepped out to go and grab a coffee. I headed over to my local independent coffee shop where I get on well with the owners. Like many small businesses, they have been struggling in the economy and I like to show my support for them, so I am usually in there buying coffee a few times a week. Although they are always chirpy and friendly, they are regularly sharing how they wish things were a little busier. I finished nattering to them and then wandered back home, latte firmly in hand.

Like many towns, mine has a few homeless folks who are kicking around. There are three guys in particular who are always chirpy, respectful and pretty passive to passer-bys and each of which sells those newspapers designed to help homeless people earn some money. On that day I walked passed one of these guys and although he didn’t ask whether I wanted to buy his newspaper, I felt like I wanted to give him something. I grabbed $5 from my wallet and offered it to him. He was absolutely overjoyed. His eyes literally lit up when I handed it to him and he told me he had only earned a few bucks in the last few days and he was so excited. He tried to give me a newspaper, but I wanted him to keep it as I was unlikely to read it. I walked off feeling pretty pokey about making that guy’s day and musing on the fact that such a small contribution in my world could be so huge to his.

Later that day I was getting some laundry together and was emptying out the pockets in my jeans and shorts. In each there was a pocket full of random loose change, not amounting to much –just some pennies, dimes and quarters– and I put them on the dresser table…with the existing pile of loose change. I now had a pile of loose change combined from three smaller piles and I didn’t particularly want to carry it around with me. Then the dots connected. On that day I had experienced (a) a business who wants more people in there (b) local homeless folks who could use some support (c) a big pile of loose change.

This got me thinking of an idea which I have nicknamed Change For Change. It runs a little like this:

  • A local business will choose to be a Change Collector. Up front in there premises and near their till they will have a big plastic jar and some signs that encourage local residents and passer-bys to throw their loose change into to contribute to a local charity or good cause.
  • Said passer-bys and residents will soon know that they can get rid of their lose change there. Some may walk into the business to deposit their change and happen to pick up a product (such as a coffee in my local independent coffee shop).
  • When the change jar is nearly full, the local business will take it to the bank to change it into notes and then donate the money to a local organized charity that helps local people. This charity could be a soup kitchen, support group, library, hospital or whatever else.
  • The final step which I would love to see but I think is essential, would be that they Twitter (or maybe SMS) the gathered amount from the jar and a website will aggregate the total from all the tweets/messages to show a rolling total of all the money going to good local causes as part of the Change For Change scheme.

So that’s the plan. I think it could be incredible to have a scheme such as this in place, and it would be awesome to have a Change Collector in every neighbourhood. Just imagine the opportunities this could bring for local communities. Although I doubt most Change Collectors would be gathering oodles and oodles of cash, I think that the contributions that they do gather for charity could be enough to (a) justify their time and effort in helping a local good cause and (b) have a marked difference to the local community. Just imagine what only $100 gathered in change could mean for a soup kitchen: that could feed quite a few people. Imagine what the change could mean for a local kids charity: that $100 could buy Christmas presents for disadvantaged kids and really put a smile on their faces.

The good news is that I don’t think it would require a huge amount of work to put a plan such as this in place. It would need a website, plenty of positive advocacy to encourage people to set up as Change Collectors, and lots of awareness for people to deposit their change.

Unfortunately, I don’t have time right now to kick off another project, but if someone is excited by the idea and would like to get it into motion, I would be more than happy to weigh in and offer my input and assistance where I could. Whaddya think, Internet friends?

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