Andrew Dys

Couch cushion filler adds up for church's kids

LANCASTER -- Tugged from the folds of car seats, snatched from under sofa cushions and plucked from puddles in driveways, the kids of one Vacation Bible School and even some adults collected $23,000.

One penny at a time.

Yes, 2.3 million pennies.

Better than six tons of pennies. Heavy as the average elephant. Pushing two miles of pennies if they were stacked up.

But why? Why pennies?

"Why not?" said the self-described "not staid, not placid, nonconformist preacher" at Lancaster's Christian Assembly Worship Center, Marvin Tennant III.

For little kids, a lot of pennies is a lot of money, Bible school director Carla Horton said. "The kids feel like they are really making a difference. Pennies are heavy."

The first penny race for charity started more than a year ago at the Bible school. It pitted the boys against the girls. About 1 million pennies were found, grabbed, plucked.

"One monstrous pile of pennies it was," Tennant said of the initial haul.

The boys won.

But 1 million pennies was not near enough for the crowd at Christian Assembly Worship Center. Later last summer, Horton and Tennant and the rest of the place said bigger must be better. They wanted more. The boys and men have been pitted against the girls and ladies for almost a year.

One boy, Wesley Tucker, raised about $1,600 in pennies, his mother estimated. He turned dollars into pennies, all his allowance into pennies, and asked for pennies anywhere he could. Some even came from under a building his dad bought.

Near 160,000 of them.

I asked 10-year-old Wesley the best place to find pennies.

"Under the car seat was good, but I don't do much couch digging any more," Wesley said. "My mom's pocketbook was a good spot."

Wesley said his father's pocket was a gold mine until he was nabbed in the act.

Karen Tucker, the happy mom even without a penny to her name, said her son learned about raising money, but she now is weary of Abe Lincoln's copper face.

"I rolled so many pennies that nobody knows for sure how much we have anymore," she said.

All the pennies have been stashed and will be rolled out and counted Sunday. It may take a forklift.

"Our goal was to double last year, and we are way past that," Horton said. Horton started the idea for this penny race and has had to deal with the fallout in her own home: Her three children have collected thousands of pennies, too.

"So many pennies," Carla Horton said.

The money will pay for an electric sign that will go out in front of a new church building.

"After a year, I'm all pennied out," Tennant the preacher said. "No more pennies. Not next year, maybe never. But wow, what a ride of pennies this has been."

But first, Sunday. Services will be devoted almost entirely to the Bible school and the selfless lessons learned there, 1 cent at a time.

The top boy will be crowned Penny Prince. The top girl gets a tiara and the title Princess Penny.

And here's the kicker: The women lose, Tennant's wife gets doused with a water balloon from a sort of dunking booth. The men lose, Tennant's father, a retired preacher, gets dunked.