The checkout lines were long at the department store, and since I was just buying gift cards, Customer Service looked like a better choice. No one was returning anything at that moment, so the two clerks were chatting. As I approached the counter, they were discussing the shortage of coins. “Where have they all gone?” I asked, just to be friendly. “It’s the government,” one woman said. “They’re not making enough new coins.”
Back outside, walking to the car, I was still puzzling over that statement. Dollar bills wear out, but not coins. In fact, I hardly use them at all, making even small purchases with my debit card. Still, the cash economy is widespread, and a lot of coins are piling up somewhere.
The kids at our little church on the Ute reservation have tapped into that resource. They regularly come on Sunday with bags of coins, lots of pennies but silver ones too. They put them in a coffee can at the entrance, and when it fills up, I ask them to bring it up to the altar. Once an elder cleaned out his collection and donated a bag of quarters. The coffee can was heavy that week; two kids could barely carry it.
After it’s presented at the service, I take the Children’s Offering to our local credit union, which has a coin-counting machine in the lobby. Usually there’s about a hundred dollars, but with all those quarters, it was a lot more. Whatever’s brought in is matched by our Bishop’s Committee, and the whole amount is used for outreach.
Though we’ve been doing this for years, the kids are still shy about saying how we should use the money. I try to give them simple choices to make it easier. When one of them said, “Food,” we used their gift to buy turkeys and other ingredients for the Holiday Meal we put on for the community. One summer they chose “kids who are hungry,” and we sent home backpacks of dry food on the last day of camp. When an older couple walked a mile to get to church on Sunday, they contributed to car repairs. And every year at this time, we give gift cards to families who are struggling.
In our new book A Native Way of Giving, Forrest Cuch describes how the Ute people survived being forced onto the reservation: “They stayed deeply connected with the Creator and always took care of one another. They shared everything from food, to caring for the young and old, to providing lodging and other needs. Possessions were held in common, and if anyone had food, then everyone ate. Sharing wasn’t just something they did; it was who they were, their way of life. Faithfulness and generosity were among their most important survival skills.” (p. 23-24)
So kids, let’s get those coins back into circulation. Let’s invite the grown-ups to help put them to work for the good of everyone. Let’s notice the simple needs of our neighbors and do what we can to help. And let’s take seriously what Forrest wrote: “The Creator’s gifts are abundant, enough for everyone if we’ll just take what we really need and share the rest. And remember to give thanks to God, every minute of every day.” (p. 40)