Canadian charities rush to cash in on penny’s demise

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

As Canadian shoppers prepare to embark on "The Great Rounding," of the soon-to-be-penniless retail market, charities are figuring ways to get them disgorge millions of remaining pennies from their coin jars.

Charities are still trying to determine the long-term implications of the loss of the one-cent coin, officially withdrawn from distribution this week because the goernment says it costs more to make than it's face value.

CBC News reports Toronto-based charity Free the Children has already accumulated 70 million pennies in a nationwide drive, with the proceeds going to provide safe drinking water in developing countries.

Tim Hortons has also promoted the longstanding penny drive for its Children's Foundation, which raises almost $1 million a year in pennies dropped into restaurant collection boxes, according to a news release Monday.

[ Related: Now that the pesky penny is gone, how about getting rid of that nasty nickel? ]

Ronald McDonald House charities, which support families of sick children, is turning its attention to larger-denomination coins, hoping people will donate nickels, dimes and quarters as pennies slowly disappear from circulation, a spokesperson told CBC News.

But some charities are worried the decline of the penny will be reflected in a drop-off in donations.

Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, which trains dogs for the vision-impaired, is concerned the life-sized doggie-shaped donation boxes won't jingle with as many coins because a large percentage of $300,000 in coin donations are in form of pennies, spokesman Steve Doucette told CBC News.

“This year might be OK, but going forward it may hurt us,” Doucette said.

The downstream impact will take a while to be felt. The Royal Canadian Mint estimates it will recover six billion pennies in the phase-out process, worth $60 million or so, CBC News said.

Starting this week, Canadians will have to get used to seeing their cash sales transactions rounded up or down to the nearest five-cent increment as stores stop accepting pennies.

CTV News wondered who might profit from the rounding exercise. Perhaps it might be you, it suggests.

"So if you make 100 cash purchases (remember, rounding doesn't apply to debit or credit card transactions) that all result in rounding down, you could potentially save a buck or two," CTV News said. "For bored penny pinchers, it might just be worth all the hassle."

But it warned the rounding guidelines are not hard and fast rules. Merchants might decide to round up all transactions, presumably putting money in their pockets.

Whatever, the penny is getting a hearty sendoff. CBC News invited Canadians to share their stories about the copper (or these days copper-plated) coin.

Google honoured it with a twirling penny on its home page.

[ Related: Winnipeg charities pine for pennies ]

Other countries also took note of the milestone. The Associated Press observed Canada follows a number of other countries in dropping the penny, including New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland and Sweden.

The move has sparked fresh debate in the United States about whether it's time to follow suit, The Canadian Press reported.

American advocates for ditching the penny praised Canada's decision.

"If Canada can do it, why can't we?" Aaron R. Priven of Citizens for Retiring the Penny, said on the group's Facebook page.

It costs 2.4 cents to produce a U.S. penny, compared with 1.6 cents for its Canadian counterpart.

[ Related: How the pennies' disappearance will change Canadian lives ]

CP said the Obama administration has considered using cheaper materials to make both the penny and the nickel. The penny now is made mostly of zinc thinly plated with copper.

To no one's surprise, the idea has been opposed by the American zinc lobby, while the nickel lobby wants the five-cent piece to continue to be made of nickel.

Canadian nickels today are composed mostly of steel, with a smidgen of copper covered by nickel plating.