Pennies from Heaven

Jordan and I pick up pennies from the street. We don’t limit it, really, to just pennies, we gladly take home all demonization of monies that people have either carelessly tossed or purposely discarded.

Street Change

Where it Started

We moved back to Chicago in 2012 – into a high rise in Streeterville. I was working as a nurse in the emergency department at Northwestern Hospital and Jordan was on her way to becoming a licensed physical therapist. Being siloed in the area, we would frequently walk through the neighborhood and downtown area. If you’ve been to Streeterville or downtown Chicago, you know the wealth gap is in pure display here. The affluent and tourist shopping in high end retail stores jumbled with those on the extreme other end who face economic poverty asking for anything from their counterparts.

As the weather turned colder on our first year back, Jordan and I noticed that littered around the streets were individual gloves and hats. Most likely left accidentally from someone who hastily intended to put it in their coat or bag and missed; not noticing that instead of being tucked safely away, it had fallen to the streets. After a couple of weeks of noticing how many individual gloves and hats on the street, my wife, being the kind hearted person she is, decided we should start collecting these hats and gloves, and donate them to the homeless.

This was the catalyst that had us looking down on the street surface. I’d like to think most people pay little attention to what is on the streets of downtown Chicago. While we had our eyes open, we started finding other treasures besides the hats and gloves. It was Jordan, who started collecting pennies. I was working and she was studying for her board exams, she would proclaim that I wasn’t the only person with an income.

And thus Began the Game of Change

It was amusing at first, she would boast about finding two or three cents in one outing. Texting pictures of nickels, dimes, or the elusive quarter found on the streets. With my eyes to the ground I started to join in game, bragging when I found more than she did in a given day.

We would share stories of the extremes in which we would go to pick up money. Stopping people from getting on the bus to pick up the dime at the center of the door, pausing while crossing the road because a penny was lodged in the crosswalk crack, and kicking change “away” from high traffic areas or where there were too many people around. The extent we went to acquire this free money was intense. I can’t remember how many times I slammed on my brakes on my bike, and turned around to find the penny I spotted.

We had some unwritten rules in regards to free money.

  • If the change was near someone who was asking for money, it was to left alone.
  • Lose change found on the floor of people’s houses were off limits (we both did home health, so entering other people’s abodes was common).
  • Change in the “need a penny” dish was not free money, although any change left in the return change bin at grocery stores was good to go.

Expansion Set

The accumulation of money began, overflowing the initial dish we first kept the change. We graduated to a vase that we could no longer keep flowers in, feline reasons but that is a different story.

We didn’t always find change either. Once you start keeping an eye out for change, you find dollar bills as well! I found a $20 dollar bill in the back of a taxi, twice! Singles and fivers started filling our found money vase. The vase itself was filled, as was a pitcher that we weren’t using.

Dolla Dolla Bills y’all

End Game

The day we came to the determination that we would be leaving Chicago, we decided since the money came from Chicago, it should be spent in Chicago. I was recruited to Amazon and we would be moving to Seattle. It was within, literally, 3 minutes after we knew we would move that we started planning our farewell party. We decided to cash in all the change we accumulated over the 4 years of collecting on the streets of Chicago and use it to fund our going away party, giving back to the city that had given us free money.

Pitcher of Change

We were lucky that we had access to a bank that allowed us to convert change into, well, usable money. With a vase and a pitcher of change, on a Saturday morning we dumped into the receptor and watched it swirl down the hole to calculate the amount. Along with this change, and the bills we had found, the grand total we had found, which would help us celebrate leaving the city that we had loved, was over $400.

Part 2

Needless to say, we had a great going away party. We have great parties, again this for a different time. We ended up not finding too many hats and gloves to donate, and left the Midwest, but the habit of collecting money had not left us. While not as abundant now, Seattle is not as generous, or perhaps it is the fact that we are moving into a more digital world, we still stop to pick up pennies.

No, we can’t retire on the loose change found, what it did, however, is change our mind set on money. We’d joke that people just throw away money, or that vacations pay for themselves when we find vacation change. It is amazing how we’ve been ridiculed at times for picking up change. I had one person tell me they are more worried how much bacteria we are coming in contact with – but as healthcare professionals, we are aware of how germophobic we have become and take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves.

What would you say if I would just hand you $400? Tax free? Would you take it? Do you pick up loose change? Share some stories of found money or measures you’ve taken to pick up change or other times from the streets.

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