April 15, 2013

The penny is on the way out, but the Knights of Columbus' Pennies from Heaven program will keep on rolling.

"It's just a name, and it's been the name for 38 years, so as far as I'm concerned, why change it?" asks Brian Strawford, the Calgary knight who runs the Alberta-wide program.

Nickels from Heaven does not have quite the same ring to it, says Strawford.

"It started out with pennies, which were worth something at one time. People also throw in loonies and toonies," he said.

"When they started this, they actually did roll up $17,000 in pennies, and take them to the state convention. It truly was Pennies from Heaven back then, but now it's mostly loonies, toonies or whatever is in your pocket."

Many knights donate paper currency as well.

The Knights split the proceeds among the five Alberta dioceses to support seminarians and vocations programs.

In Alberta, Pennies from Heaven dates back to 1974.

Strawford, a member of Steve Mackevic Council 7938, began overseeing the program a couple of years ago after its long-time steward, Barnie Markowski of Edmonton, retired.

"Seeing as this was a charity that was really important to me, raising money for the seminarians who are going to be our future priests, obviously I said yes, that I would love to take it on," said Strawford.

The amount raised varies from year to year, but in 2012 a total of $29,000 was collected. Over the 38 years that the campaign has been in operation, $579,000 has been raised.

"People who understand and know where this money is going really do support the Pennies from Heaven program, so we are greatly blessed," said Strawford.

Individual knights regularly contribute spare change at business meetings, socials and Communion breakfasts.

Some councils go further, holding 50/50 draws, fundraising dinners, card parties or other moneymaking ventures. Some churches even have jars for parishioners to drop loose change in, Strawford said.

"At one of our meetings, our state chaplain, Father Henry Rosenbaum, made a comment that the coins make so much noise in the bucket that it's distracting, so he would appreciate it if everyone would just throw in paper money instead. I've since passed that along, and everyone gets a chuckle out of it."