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project hot air balloon


By 9:16 PM , , , , ,

"You know that jar of change you're never going to use?" the subject line read.

I did, so I opened up the message.

The mass email was sent to the SF office from an employee, who was also a proud daddy to a little girl. His daughter needed to raise money for charity through her school, and she was asking for any bit of loose change as a donation. So in turn, like a helpful dad, he was asking his fellow colleagues to empty their linty pockets and bring in their jars, bags and buckets of coins.

Usually emails of this nature make me want to close Outlook or hide under my desk, pretending not to have seen that earnest plea to pledge; but this one grabbed my attention, because it was so very specific.

In fact, I have a milk bottle full of pennies on my bookshelf that I use as a bookend. At times I've used it as a paperweight, other times as a doorstop. I also imagined that it could be used most effectively as a deadly weapon to hurl at an unwelcome intruder.

This milk bottle had the little girl's name written all over it; I was then able to abandon my delusional plan that one day I'll take this jar into the bank for the grand total of $4.17. I'm sure I'll end up feeding more quarters into a meter just to park in front of this hypothetical bank. Financially, it's a wash. Truthfully, it'll never happen. It made me question the act of saving pennies and how meaningless it felt. Why had I done it for so many years.

I'd rather the money, however small an amount, go towards some good. It may not cover for leukemia research, but it'll help a little girl out with a school project. This request was smart in ways other solicitations for donations have failed. It's a win-win. Instead of asking for paper money, which one covets, the charity suggests to take the currency that you don't want, pennies and such, off your hands. A truly Project Hot Air Balloon request. It's a deal.

I wrote back saying that I have some pennies that I can bring to work. The father thanked me immediately and said that he'll walk through the building with his daughter tomorrow, so she can personally collect the loot from each one of us. I told him he's a lucky dog, for he'll be the sucker schlepping her body weight in copper all around creation tomorrow.
This morning, when I heard a little girl's voice and a whole lotta jangling from down the hall, I took my milk bottle out of my bag and set it on my desk. I can't remember when I last put this much thought or found such thrill in giving so little money away. I know, it's not much. This whole bottle couldn't have had more than six bucks in it. I could have written a check for many milk bottles, but this exchange had solid intent behind it. Both for the donor and the recipient.

Seconds later, a small girl showed up at my desk. I presented her my bottle full of pennies. She motioned to take it, but her skinny arms were full of Ziploc bags of generosity already. I felt badly, because she was much smaller than I had expected. Her father then opened up his computer bag to let me sink my weighty donation inside.
That's my bottle in the foreground. Her dad sent out this photo as a follow-up email.
They thanked me and started to walk away. Then the little girl stopped, 'cause she had forgotten one thing. She put down her coins and motioned to her father's hand. He handed her a piece of paper and she walked back over to me.
I thought it was a raffle ticket or something, but it was this index card.
I didn't say anything. So she said,
 "It's a drawing of a wizard family." 
She was quite serious. Like, must I remind you, this was our agreement. Silly me, of course it is.

Three wizards, each holding a wand. The next one smaller than the last. I flipped the index card over and saw the Sharpie ink seeping through the ruled side. It wasn't a copy of a drawing but an original she prepared as a receipt for each donor. Her father held a healthy deck of first editions in his large hand. She must've drawn each card last night. I looked at him and he nodded.

I sat back down in my chair as they continued on their way. I held and stared at the little drawing for I don't know how long. I felt a type of joy that was completely foreign to me. This was certainly more than the bank would have given me for my pennies.

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