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TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Angelica Dowiak had an idea.
The 9-year-old’s fundraising plan — sketched on a sheet of paper with a red marker and complete with an illustration of a penny-filled jar — was simple: “Look for pennies all around. Help raise money . by asking for pennies.”
Her target for the money was children in need at Beach House Family Shelter in Toledo.
For five days, the precocious, blond-haired, blue-eyed child solicited pennies from those around her: neighbors, friends, family members, someone walking by on the sidewalk. People pulled pennies from their pockets, from the depths of their couch cushions, and from the crevices of their car consoles.
“People don’t really give up their other money, so if they just give up one cent, pretty soon you come up with a dollar,” the little girl explained.
A dollar, yes. But when she was done, young Angelica had not the $30 or $40 her family and teachers expected, but just short of $388. That’s almost 38,800 copper coins.
Last Thursday, Angelica presented the money to Tammy Holder, Beach House executive director, to use toward feeding and clothing some of the hundreds of homeless kids who come through the agency’s doors every year with their families, seeking food, shelter, and hope.
“Never did I imagine she would get this much money,” said Laura Golbinec, intervention specialist at Imagine Madison Avenue School of Arts, which the girl attends as a third grader. “I was amazed.”
The charter school stresses community service every year in individual classrooms to help develop character, Golbinec said. However, this year the school decided to coordinate efforts and have all the classes do the various service projects they came up with during one week. They titled their efforts, “The best community service week ever.”
The 557 students in kindergarten through fifth grade cleaned the playground on the school’s newly expanded grounds. They created and sent cards to Heartland of Perrysburg nursing home residents and to those serving overseas. They planted flowers at local businesses, raised money for the Toledo Area Humane Society, held a professional attire drive, and brought in cans of food for local food-bank donations.
Each year, Golbinec said, one or two students want to break out on their own and raise funds through an idea they have. Angelica came up with “Pennies for Possibilities.” Two other students, Maniya Pickett, 11, and Raeonna Walker, 10, both fourth graders at Imagine, raised about $200 for the Ronald McDonald House.
Angelica’s idea developed from the mind of a child, a child who sees her family struggling financially. Her father, Walter Dowiak, is unable to work for the last half dozen years after suffering a disability. The family, which also includes mother Crystal Dowiak and 5-year-old Quintavious, rents a house, and gets help from other family members to make ends meet.
“Every month we are on the verge of ‘how are we going to pay our bills?’ But Angelica knows she has a home to lay her head every night, food on the table. We make it work, but some others can’t, and she knows that,” her dad said.
Dowiak said about three years ago, his daughter saw a family going into a boarded-up vacant building in Toledo at dusk, seeking a place to sleep. They carried an infant with them. His daughter verbally expressed her concern over how the child was going to get the things he needed; just as she did a few months later when she witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Ike on television and became anxious about all the children, though only a child herself.
It snowballed from there. Angelica — appropriately nicknamed Angel by some — started giving her birthday and Christmas money to disaster relief, shelters, children’s hospitals — “even if it’s a dollar, she wants to help someone,” her dad said. Her summer project is a lemonade stand to raise money for Toledo Children’s Hospital.
Over the weekend, Golbinec and school business manager Kay McClain, spent more than a day counting out the pennies Angelica raised into groups of $10.
One thousand pennies per pile. Just shy of 39 piles of pennies.
All scooped up and sealed in plastic bags for the bank, where the pennies were exchanged for a check that the shelter will use for clothing, food, and toys.
At Beach House, 50 percent of the occupants at the shelter, which has been serving single women and homeless families for 91 years, are children, Holder said.
The efforts of young Angelica, Maniya, and Raeonna follow that of other children whose creative little minds conjure up ways to help the shelter, Holder said.
During the holidays, 7-year-old Evan Wolaver sat diligently drawing and coloring. He created 25 pictures, handing them to his father, and asking him if he would sell them at work. The youngster gave the shelter a $40 gift at Christmas.
Another little girl rushed home to her parents, asking how they could help her new friend at school who was staying at Beach House and “in between houses,” Holder said.
“(The adults) are the reason we exist, but it’s great to see the kids, especially when we are in a time when it is all about what we have — what do the Joneses have? — look outside of themselves and reach out to those in need,” Holder said. “And it’s amazing for us to be a part of that.”