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No Small Change

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Students in the New York City public schools have found a way to bring new value to the lowly penny by making it their tool for helping the needy.

Last November, students began a two-week drive to collect the neglected coppers for good causes. District officials recently sent checks to 11 charitable organizations totaling $89,706.01.

The money, most of it in pennies, was collected by students in 372 schools districtwide.

Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez wanted to involve students in a community-service project and also hoped he could help out children in his former district, Dade County, Fla., many of whom were left homeless by Hurricane Andrew. Some of the funds collected will go toward books, shoes, clothing, and food for hurricane victims in Florida, Louisiana, and Hawaii.

A school board member who works with the United Nations Children's Fund suggested that aid to Somalia would also be a worthy cause. In addition to food for displaced Somali refugees, the penny-collection funds will purchase seeds and tools for Somali farmers. Money is also going to service organizations in New York City that help homeless and hungry children and adults.

The project was coordinated by Common Cents Inc., a New York-based organization that conducts volunteer "penny harvests'' for charitable causes. All of the proceeds in New York will go to the various charitable organizations, officials say.

Because the students were collecting small change, even children from the least-affluent families were able to contribute.

"We want our children to experience the deep personal satisfaction of community service,'' Mr. Fernandez said in a statement. "And what better way than an activity in which everyone in the school can participate regardless of financial ability?''

Honest Abe would have been proud.--S.S.

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