Twenty-two pennies at the bottom of an old coffee mug stirred up a small change in Cabarrus County in January.
In 31 days, those 22 pennies turned into $44, which was then exchanged for 264 pounds of food – all of which went to feed the hungry of Cabarrus County.
It’s called the Feed Cabarrus initiative, and the effort started with the pennies’ previous owner, Patrick Coughlin, who is the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. While attending a luncheon sponsored by the Cabarrus County Building Industry Association, Coughlin noticed a perk he shared with many of the other community leaders who were there.
“There are a lot of us in leadership in this community that have the advantage of not always having to pay for things like this (luncheon). Or at the very least, our companies are paying for it, and it’s not coming out of our pockets personally,” said Coughlin. “Yet we personally are benefiting to some degree.”
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So Coughlin pulled a coffee mug from his cupboard, placed it on his desk at work and began tossing a penny inside each time he had a meal on someone else’s dime. He decided that at the end of the month, he would donate $2 to Cooperative Christian Ministry’s food pantry for every penny. In January, the mug held 22 pennies, so he wrote a check to CCM for $44.
“Then I thought: What if I challenge other people to do the same?” said Coughlin.
The initiative is a welcome idea, according to food pantry coordinators across the state.
Last year, 36 percent of North Carolina pantries reported food shortages that prevented them from feeding people who sought help, according to the N.C. Association of Feeding America Food Banks.
Although local food pantries haven’t reported bare shelves, the need for replenishment never goes away, said Joanie Reeder, development coordinator for CCM. “There are always people who are hungry,” she said.
According to CCM, 16 percent of Cabarrus County residents are food insecure, which means they don’t know where they’ll find their next meal.
In 2014, CCM and its nine partnering pantries gave more than 1 million pounds of food to nearly 50,000 people in Cabarrus and southern Rowan counties. Reeder said 2015 statistics are expected to mirror the previous year.
“I think it’s just a continued re-stabilization of the economic situation that people are facing, with unemployment and under-employment,” she said. “They’ve got to choose between paying a bill or buying food. And by coming to the CCM pantries, they’re able to get food and pay that bill at the same time.”
Since Coughlin launched the Feed Cabarrus initiative in January, it’s quickly caught on and spread throughout the community. This is thanks in part to the movement’s Facebook page, which has more than 430 likes.
One of those likes came from a spa owner in town who saw the site and decided to match Coughlin’s amount each month. Another came from a chamber member who wrote a check for $450 toward a food pantry operated at the county’s The Opportunity House.
Cabarrus County Commissioner Chair Steve Morris was one of the first to accept the challenge.
“It increases awareness, for one thing,” said Morris, who had around 20 pennies in his cup at last count. “And individually, it makes us realize how fortunate we are.”
Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.