By Kenneth Hart - CNHI News Service
Oct. 24, 2012 — Ever wondered how much 1 million pennies weighs?
The Rev. Jim Varney knows the answer without Googling it. More than three tons.
How he did he come by that particular bit of arcane knowledge? Therein lies a tale.
Varney — not to be confused with the late actor by the same name — is pastor of the Grayson Freewill Baptist Church. On Monday, he and several helpers cashed in the $10,000 worth of pennies — that’s 1 million of them — his church had collected.
According to Varney, the idea for the penny drive came from one of his sermons. The message of it, he said, was that things like pennies might seem worthless and insignificant when there’s only a few of them, but they can add up to a lot.
Members of Varney’s flock brought in their 1-cent pieces until the million-penny goal was reached. It took roughly two years, he said.
It took a bit longer than expected, but, the fact the goal was reached at all was remarkable in light of the setback the church suffered. About six months into the project, the church was burglarized and the approximately $500 in pennies it had collected at the time was stolen.
The perpetrators were caught when they tried to cash in the coins the day after the break-in, Varney said. They were subsequently convicted, and, as part of their sentences, had to make restitution to the church, albeit not in pennies, he said.
Congregants weren’t deterred in their quest to collect a million pennies and decided to start from scratch, Varney said. And, the silver lining to the break-in was that getting caught and punished seemed to set the perpetrators on the right path, he said. They’ve expressed regret for the crime and apologized to the church, he said.
Varney said Harold Horton, who attends the church and is also Grayson Fire Department chaplain, was one of the penny drive’s prime movers.
Once it reached its goal, the church faced a few logistical problems, not the least of which was where would it take all those pennies to cash them in? That issue was resolved when Citizens National Bank agreed to take them, provided the church was willing to split them up among the bank’s locations in Grayson, Ashland and Russell.
Citizens National also provided the plastic bags the coins had to be placed in prior to cash-in.
“They’ve bent over backwards to help us,” Varney said.
With that problem out of the way, there remained another one — how to transport the pennies. A local business stepped up to help with that one.
Varney said he was in the Grayson Rent 2 Own store and happened to mention the church’s penny collection to its manager, Pam Barton. She offered the store’s box truck and two of its employees to handle the penny-hauling duties.
About 20 volunteers pitched in to load the pennies Monday morning, and Varney and his crew hauled them off to be cashed. As it turned out, they only had to make two stops — at the Grayson and Ashland Citizens National branches.
Dave Simpson, security officer at the Ashland location, said he had seen folks in bring in large amounts of coins to cash in before, but the church’s penny payload was far and away the biggest he’d ever witnessed.
Simpson said the coins would be stored in a vault until they could be counted and rolled, by mechanical means. Once that’s done they’ll be sent to the Federal Reserve, he said.
Varney said the $10,000 would be deposited in the church’s building fund and used to refurbish the steeple of the church, which was built in 1976 and hasn’t had anything done to it since then.
And, he said the church was getting to ready to embark on another similar project, albeit using a much less cumbersome form of currency.
Varney said Grayson Freewill Baptist would try to amass 10,000 $1 bills. Once they are collected, he said, the plan is to put them into one of those machines used in “cash-grab” promotions, which use air currents to create swirling vortexes of currency. The idea is to give folks the chance to see what all those bills look like in one of those devices, he said.
He said he doesn’t expect this project to be nearly as difficult as the last one.
“Dollars are a lot easier to handle than pennies,” he said.
KENNETH HART can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2654.