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Pennies by the ton

Children collect a million for temple

How much is one penny worth? One cent? To Primary children in the Arapahoe Colorado Stake a penny is priceless. It's a "temple penny." In September, the children began collecting — with a little help from parents and priesthood leaders — pennies to donate to the building of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.

million penny drive
million penny drive Photo: Photo by Bryan K. Hayes

In two months, they collected more than one million of the copper coins— worth $10,401.39.

On Nov. 10, children, parents, leaders and a few friends and neighbors gathered at the stake center to put their pennies together. One by one, children brought their penny banks shaped from small milk cartons into miniature Nauvoo temples. Parents brought up their jars, sacks and even their pocket change. Many threw in bills. One woman brought penny banks retrieved from her basement left behind by grown children.

"The stake center looked like stake conference," stake President Lynn Southam told the Church News in a telephone interview, speaking of a packed parking lot. He expressed delight at seeing so many, including those of other faiths, present and excited.

"Some brought a few pennies, some brought several hundred dollars worth. People being baptized that night were there. Everybody was just captivated by the magic of these coins."

By the time they were ready to bag the coins to take to the bank, members had filled a 5-foot-by-5-foot frame box built for the occasion. The box was one foot deep, 22.3 cubic feet. It held 170 gallons of pennies, 6,000 pounds or three tons. The collection even included several vintage coins from as far back as the 1800s. The vintage coins have since been placed in a keepsake book, along with a check for $10,401.39 that was delivered Nov. 27 to Church headquarters.

President Southam said that the Nauvoo penny drive "riveted the children to the temple." The drive began during stake conference Sept. 16 when he spoke of the Church's invitation for members to continue to donate to the building of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple. He asked that children do chores around the house to earn pennies. Letters were sent to parents encouraging them to support their children's efforts to collect "temple pennies."

The effect was immediate — even before members walked out of stake conference. Four-year-old Megan Orton, while listening to President Southam speak, turned to her dad, pulled a half-dollar from her purse and said, "Daddy, I have mine!"

"Next thing I know this little girl is knocking on my knee. Her dad said, 'President, Megan has something for you,' " President Southam recalled.

million penny drive
million penny drive Photo: Photo by Linda Snelgrove

In fact, Megan's donation sparked the minted coin collection included with the donation check. Along with some donated vintage coins, President Southam went to coin collectors. By the time they were done, they had coins reflecting Church history: 1827 (the year the Angel Moroni gave the Prophet Joseph the golden plates), 1830 (the year the Church was organized), 1844 (the year the Prophet and Hyrum were martyred), and many other old coins.

There was also a 1935 penny (the year President Gordon B. Hinckley returned from his a mission to England). Also included were coins of other denominations, such as a 2001 silver eagle and a Susan B. Anthony dollar, the latter to "pay tribute to LDS women throughout our history who have been involved in temple building and temple work."

There was even a widow's mite.

The stake president expressed gratitude for the work of Linda Snelgrove, Primary stake president and her board. "They also put together home evening materials so moms and dads could teach their children about the Nauvoo Temple and, of course, teach them about temple work.

"One Primary board member said to me, 'You can't believe how this has affected our stake and our children. All they talk about is the temple. I was home and doing the laundry and one of my little boys looked under the washing machine and said, "Mom, look, there's a temple penny!' "

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