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Pennies add up for Spokane Guilds’ School

A single penny doesn’t look like much, but you get a few thousand together in the same room and pretty soon the dollars start adding up. The motto of the annual Spokane Guilds’ School Foundation penny drive is “every penny counts,” and it’s a message dozens of volunteers take to heart.

Lonna Gately and her whole family work the back room during the penny drive that benefits the nonprofit organization, providing programs to those with developmental disabilities.

Volunteers spend hours on street corners collecting pennies and other coins from passing motorists. They’re brought back to the Guilds’ School, where they’re sorted and bagged by volunteers. Gately has been with the penny drive for nearly all its 18 years, ever since her son Brian, now 21, started receiving services at the Guilds’ School as a child.

“We love this place,” Gately said. “We were young parents. They help you learn and answer your questions. It’s a safe place to go when you know nothing.”

As she talks, she sorts the other coins from the pennies and dumps them into different buckets. “By the end of the day, it’s an aching back and sore feet and a lot of money,” she said.

The penny drive has raised $2.8 million since it began, a lofty number that starts with a simple penny. “It’s amazing how many pennies add up,” drive organizer Korin Michielli said. “Everyone can help with a penny. You can find one in the parking lot and know that it’s going to a good cause.”

Volunteers staffed 13 collection sites in Spokane, Spokane Valley, Cheney and Deer Park on Saturday. There is only one site in Spokane Valley because of an ordinance there that prohibits donation collectors from reaching out to collect money from drivers. Now donors must drive into a parking lot to make a donation, but it is still effective, Michielli said. “That site was one of our best ones (last year),” she said.

One of the Guilds’ regular donors was outside its front doors Saturday, trying to raise more than the $500 she had already collected. Julia McIntyre, now in the fifth grade at St. Aloysius School, has been raising money for the Guilds’ School since the first grade. She was inspired by her Uncle Ben, who is disabled. “The Guilds’ School helped him so much,” she said.

Every year, McIntyre is required to do a social justice project for school. Many of her fellow students choose to do tasks like raking leaves from someone’s yard, but McIntyre has always set her sights elsewhere. In the first grade, she raised $100 for the Guilds’ School. In the second grade, it was $200. She has made it her goal to raise her contribution by $100 every year. She saves her own coins, and a few weeks before her annual project is due she sends a letter to her friends and family asking for donations.

“It’s kind of an all-year thing,” she said. “Somehow, every year I make my goal.”

She turned in her donation but still felt like she needed to come with her family to collect more donations on the street. “It’s just an amazing organization,” she said. “Who wouldn’t want to help out?”