Six-year-old Amelia Thomas collected more than $4,500 for the Cancer Society in just two weeks, simply by placing milk jugs in the classrooms at her Cayman Prep Primary School.
The idea came when Amelia Thomas set up a stand at home one springtime Sunday, selling lemonade and cookies to help her five-year-old friend, former Cayman Islands resident Hannah Meeson, receiving treatment for the last year at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Centre for a brain tumour.
In the middle of the project, said her mother Claire Thomas, the idea came to Amelia of “getting all her school friends to collect coins, ‘to help people with cancer in Cayman and make them feel better’ – and the Coins for Cancer fundraising initiative was born.”
After pitching the idea to Cayman Prep Primary Principal Brian Wilson, Amelia addressed a school assembly in mid-May, announcing the drive and challenging her schoolmates to contribute. Mr. Wilson promised a class party to the group donating the most.
Amelia and Claire cut off the tops of two dozen milk jugs and placed them in each of the primary school classrooms.
“There are 21 classes in Cayman Prep Infant and Junior school – Smith Road site only,” Ms Thomas said. “We put an empty one-gallon water bottle in each classroom and asked students to bring in loose change from home and try to fill the bottle.”
The school boasts 485 students. Teachers and administrators contributed as well, pouring coins into the jugs for two weeks at the end of May, raising $4,462, and that sum before US, Canadian and other coins were counted.
“I knew about this. My daughter goes to Cayman Prep and came home one day and told me they were collecting coins because someone had cancer,” says Jennifer Weber, operations manager for the Cancer Society. “I was at the school one day and saw the signs.”
Ms Thomas said the US coins had been separated from the others, and, while counting was incomplete, she estimated another $300 to $400.
“It’s incredible to me,” said Ms Weber, “that a lot of times it’s the case that big fundraisers do a gala or there is a bake sale, and we raise $80 or $100 or something.
“This, however, was nothing like that, a small effort. It shows the generosity of spirit of people. It shows that people don’t need to get something. They don’t need to buy cupcakes or have a fancy dinner. This is such a simple thing and they raised so much by just collecting coins.”
Ms Thomas was unable to say how many thousands of coins were collected, but all were stuffed into bags and hauled to the Dr. Roy’s branch of Fidelity Bank.
“There were a lot of coins, I have no idea how many, but there was a lot of counting at my house,” Ms Thomas says. “I did have help from some of the other mothers at the school.
“Luckily, Brett Hill [bank president] and his team at Fidelity were very cooperative and I was able to take bags and containers of coins, which were sorted into denomination, but had not been bagged into the bank bags – a task which would have taken even longer.
While the bank does not normally process random coins, Mr. Hill is society board member, “so they made an exception and accepted the numerous bags of sorted coins, using their machines to double check the counts, and divided them into bank bags.
“After a few weeks of counting thousands of coins by individual class bottles (required to determine which class was the winner) and then delivering the coins to Fidelity, they prepared a draft for the Cancer Society for CI$4,462,” she said.
“It just shows how every little bit helps and within two weeks a significant amount of money for a wonderful cause was raised.”
Mr. Wilson said the winning group raised $502: “The class which collected the most money was a Year 1 class and the children were treated to a special “movie and pizza” treat on Thursday 28 June, the day before school closed.
“During the course of the year, the school is proud to have contributed to many different causes,” he said, listing the Red Cross, the Cancer Society, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Humane Society
“On an international basis” he said, “books have been provided for a school in Guatemala, classroom furniture for a school in Kenya and the children have played their part in trying to protect sharks and rhinos from needless slaughter.”
He estimated the students raised more than $25,000 annually, contributing hundreds of boxes of fruit and other produce to the Department of Children and Family Services from the school’s Harvest Festival.
Ms Weber was grateful for the donation, explaining that the society, with a full-time staff of only two and a single part timer, needs all the help it can find.
“It’s not always money,” she said. “We have 60 financial-aid partners helping in various ways. We pay for treatments and just gave more than $400 for PAP tests. We have 300 mammogram vouchers.”
After a year-long campaign, the society in November 2008, donated Cayman’s first digital mammography machine and supplementary equipment to the George Town Hospital.
The group has at least 30 collection cans around the community, in gas stations, fast-food restaurants and other places frequented by tourists.
“But we are now at the point where expenses are high, and we are working on the prevention side. We’d much rather pay for that, and have a higher profile, paying for prevention, testing and checks,” Ms Weber said.