Fundraiser Founder Mary Hance, a.k.a. “Ms. Cheap,” Looks Back
“The Penny Drive really began as a lark,” said Mary Hance, who wrote The Tennessean’s “Ms. Cheap” column on frugality and smart shopping for 25 years, until her retirement this past January. “I was reading a book called, ‘Are You Normal About Money,’ which looked at money habits. One of the questions posed was, ‘if you saw a penny on the ground would you pick it up?’ and forty something percent of the people in the survey said they would not.”
Thinking that statistic would make for a good “Ms. Cheap” column, Mary wrote an article about how if people don’t care about their lose change, they should instead donate it to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee to help feed hungry neighbors. It was 2009 and the Penny Drive was born.
MAKING CHANGE WITH SPARE CHANGE
While Mary said there are many good charities doing great work in Middle Tennessee, she chose Second Harvest as the Penny Drive beneficiary because of its successful work providing food to neighbors in need though a network for 450+ Partner Agencies across 46 Middle and West Tennessee counties. That and the ability of the organization to really stretch a dollar – with $1 donated able to provide four meals to someone in need.
“Second Harvest makes a little go a long way,” said Mary. “Every penny really does count here. So many of the nonprofits count on big financial gifts, where Second Harvest enables small givers to make a big difference.”
“The favorite memories list goes on and on but one of my favorites is Maplewood High School junior ROTC program which participated for many years, thanks to Col. Martha Shaffer’s leadership,” said Mary.
According to Mary, Col. Shaffer reached out to see if her students could participate. Mary said of course. The student donations were small, but like every Penny Drive donation, every cent counts.
“The kids raised a good amount of money and Col. Shaffer ended up thanking me for allowing them to participate, saying that the drive offered a rare chance for these young people to give back,” Mary said. “‘They are usually on the receiving end,’ she told me. That bolstered my belief that anybody can make a difference.”
Mary also enjoyed seeing the enthusiasm of preschool and younger students – including those from Grace Baptist Academy, The Episcopal School, and Belle Meade Child Center – who, “thanks to their teachers embraced the Penny Drive in all kinds of creative ways,” she said.
“A definite high point and the biggest surprise was the day in December when Nashville businessman Bill Yeaman and his board member, Mike Kelly, showed up at the food bank with a check for $300,000 from Yeaman’s Sumpter Yeaman Charitable Foundation for the Penny Drive,” said Mary, who had been previously concerned the Penny Drive would under perform in 2020 because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The generous donation would push the fundraiser’s yearly total to nearly $712,000 – seven times more than its most successful year prior and enough to provide 2.8 million meals.
“(It was) absolutely amazing,” said Mary. “I had never met Bill, but I look forward to getting to know him and let him know how much his generosity is appreciated.”
This also brings the Penny Drive’s 12-year fundraising total to an incredible $1.4+ million to support Second Harvest – enough for 5.6 million meals for those facing hunger in our community.
“I am so thankful to the sponsors over the years: Pinnacle Financial Partners, Wilson Bank & Trust, Cornerstone Financial Credit Union, Kroger, and so many generous donors,” said Mary. “I am thankful to The Tennessean for its donations and for allowing me to use my ‘Ms. Cheap’ platform to lead the drive. And I am thankful to Second Harvest for its hard-working staff, especially Valerie Reta, who have supported my efforts every step of the way.”
RETIRING ON A HIGH NOTE
After a 45-year career as a journalist for the Nashville Banner and then The Tennessean, Mary announced she would retire in January. While she may be hanging up her “Ms. Cheap’” hat, she does not want her departure to be an end to the generosity inspired by the Penny Drive.
“My retirement from The Tennessean in January means that this was the final penny drive in its present form, but there is plenty of work left to do in the ongoing fight against hunger,” Mary wrote in a recent Op-Ed article for the Tennessean. “Organize your own food drive, save your coins all year, get your children and friends involved, make your celebrations ‘parties with a purpose.’”