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Penny Drive Raises More than $1.4 Million Over 12 Years

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

Penny Drive 2018

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.”

MEMORABLE MOMENTS

“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. 

Ms. Cheap Penny Drive

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.

BREAKING RECORDS

“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. 

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

“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.’”

MESSAGES FOR MARY

“Mary is truly an inspiration. She took something as simple as spare change and, over the years, helped provide millions of meals to those in need. Mary made giving back and helping our neighbors accessible to everyone, and in doing so, encouraged our Middle and West Tennessee community to come together and raise an incredible $1.4 million to fight hunger. On behalf of myself and the entire staff of Second Harvest, I want to thank Mary for being a true friend to the food bank. We are so grateful to her support and wish her a very happy retirement.” 

NANCY KEIL, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF SECOND HARVEST FOOD BANK OF MIDDLE TENNESSEE

“We are so proud of Mary. Her vision and leadership on the Penny Drive for Second Food Harvest Bank for the past 12 years has made it such a successful effort to fight hunger. We are fortunate that so many people stepped up to donate this year because of the growing number of people in need because of the coronavirus. This year’s drive, in particular, is bittersweet because Mary is retiring after 45 years.”

MARIA DE VARENNE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR OF THE TENNESSEAN

“It’s always been a great honor for Wilson Bank & Trust to have a role in this important, impactful cause. Second Harvest helps the hungry in every county and community we serve, and we’re grateful to be involved in a campaign that aligns so well with both our mission and our service area. We’re thankful to Ms. Cheap for giving us the opportunity to help.”

JOHN MCDEARMAN, CEO OF WILSON BANK & TRUST

“Being a local credit union that has thrived in middle Tennessee for over 65 years, we like every other Nashvillian, knows Mary ‘Ms. Cheap’ well! When presented with an opportunity to be involved with the Penny Drive, we were afforded with a no brainer decision. Work with Mary on her most philanthropic initiative and help our great friends at Second Harvest! Finally a reason to cheer in 2020, thanks Mary for all the great years and this year! Happy retirement!”

CORNERSTONE FINANCIAL CREDIT UNION

“Kroger is pleased to once again support the Ms. Cheap Penny Drive. We love Second Harvest, and we love Mary Hance. We are contributing $5,000 in Mary’s honor. Mary has been such a great friend of the food bank, and we have appreciated her professional reporting over the last 45 years. We will miss you Mary but wish you all the best in retirement!”

MELISSA EADS, CORPORATE AFFAIRS MANAGER FOR THE KROGER NASHVILLE DIVISION

“Our involvement with Second Harvest began as a way for our bank to give back on a larger scale as we celebrated our bank’s 25th anniversary. Because we saw how it helped so many of our neighbors, it quickly became a tradition that our employees were excited to support every year.”

RANDALL CLEMONS, FORMER CEO OF WILSON BANK & TRUST

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