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Pennies for trees in Haiti

The pennies weighing down your pockets won’t be in circulation for much longer, so why not unload that surplus copper on a worthy cause? The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is launching an initiative to collect the Waterloo Region’s loose change to help bring much-needed reforestation to Haiti.

Cheryl Schwartz donates some of her pocket change to a Haiti reforestation project at the MCC Thrift Shop on Church Street in Elmira.[will sloan / the observer]
Cheryl Schwartz donates some of her pocket change to a Haiti reforestation project at the MCC Thrift Shop on Church Street in Elmira. [will sloan / the observer]
The MCC, which has been involved with charitable endeavors in Haiti since the 1940s, began its reforestation program in 1985. Over the years, the group has witnessed the urgency of the problem firsthand: in some areas, the island nation’s forests have been depleted to five per cent of their original density.

“Deforestation is just something that’s gone on for decades and decades, and now what we’re working at is saying, ‘OK, let’s bring some equilibrium and actually start to push this problem back,’” said Dan Driedger, the MCC’s resource generation director.

“If you look at a satellite image of the country, you’ve got the Dominican Republic on one side and Haiti on the other side,” continued Driedger. “And the satellite images are startling in terms of the greenery you see, and how it turns just to black as soon as you look at the site where Haiti is.”

The lowly penny may have few practical applications in today’s economy, but consider: with 33 of those pennies, the MCC is able to purchase a seedling, and provide the training to plant it. In addition, the group ensures that the change is put to proper use.

“People always want to make sure the money is being well-used, so we have staff there,” said Dreidger. “We don’t just send money, we have staff on the ground who are working with local people who we hire to implement the project. So we’re not funneling it through another organization, we’re doing the work ourselves.”

The initiative is timed to coincide not only with the end of the Canadian penny (the last new ones go into circulation next month), but also the third anniversary of an earthquake that devastated the country, killing some 300,000 and leaving more than one million people homeless in 2010. In the weeks following that disaster, the MCC was gratified by Waterloo Region’s response to its Haiti charities.

“It was overwhelming,” said Dreidger. “People were very supportive, they wanted to help. We’re just fortunate to be in a community where we can act as their hands and feet in Haiti in trying to respond to some of these needs there.”

Now, the MCC hopes that the anniversary will remind the region’s residents of the other problems facing the beleaguered country. “People use trees, they turn them into charcoal and use the charcoal for heating,” said Dreidger. “That’s the major consumption of wood, and it’s been going on for decades.

Pennies can be donated at any of MCC’s thrift stores in Waterloo Region (including those in Elmira), as well as any Mennonite Savings and Credit Union. The initiative will continue to the end of February, but the MCC will accept any donation, large or small, at any time.

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