A different form of currency is helping those less fortunate in Jasper County.
Instead of donating spare change or a few bucks into the local Salvation Army’s signature red kettle this holiday season, customers at the Newton Hy-Vee can now electronically donate as much money as they want at the checkout line and signify their donation with a wooden nickel.
This new method of donating was launched Nov. 9 to accompany the Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle Campaign and is only available at the Newton Hy-Vee, 1501 First Ave. E. The Newton branch of the Christian-based nonprofit developed the wooden nickels alongside its advisory board as a new way for people to contribute to the local organization.
The idea originated from comments heard by red kettle bell ringers who were frequently told people would donate money but they did not carry cash, said Joe DeHart, the provost of Des Moines Area Community College Newton Campus and chair of the Newton Salvation Army’s advisory board.
“People just don’t carry cash like they used to,” DeHart said, adding that Rick Morr, who also serves on the advisory board and is the store director of Newton Hy-Vee, mentioned the grocery chain has experience gathering freewill contributions after customers finish with their purchases.
“Then we got to brainstorming some more and we thought it would still be nice if they did something at the register and had something to put in the kettle and wish us a ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy holidays’ or whatever. So that’s how the wooden nickel idea came up … We wanted something tangible that still makes that sound — that ‘clink’ in the kettle.”
Several wooden nickels were created for the initiative and are kept in small buckets at each cash register in the store. DeHart discovered a company online that could make the coins and emblazon each side with the red logos of the Salvation Army and Hy-Vee.
Donations of all sizes are accepted. It doesn’t matter if it’s 50 cents or $500, Hy-Vee patrons still get their wooden nickels to donate as they exit the store with carts full of groceries.
“What’s nice about it, too, is say a parent comes in and they’ve got two or three children and they gave two dollars at the register, we just go ahead and give each child a wooden nickel so they can let the people at the bell know they made a contribution and they’re supporting the Salvation Army,” DeHart said.
To Captain Janelle Cleaveland’s knowledge, this may be the first time any Salvation Army has introduced a wireless donation campaign using ornamental wooden coins to illustrate the act of giving.
It is most certainly unique to Newton, but that could change in the future. Cleaveland said the Omaha-based Salvation Army headquarters is interested is duplicating the project in subsequent installments.
“This has never been done before,” she said. “I think it’s working because not a lot of people carry cash — and I don’t even carry cash — and it’s just easy when you go buy your groceries and you can just add that to your bill and it automatically comes out.”
So far, the program has performed well in Hy-Vee. Morr said he finds about 35 to 40 wooden coins inside the red kettle every day and is constantly tracking the results.
Until he joined the Salvation Army’s advisory board, Morr admitted he did not truly understand the need for services and aid in Jasper County. A program like this that accompanies the Red Kettle Campaign, he said, has the potential to help a lot of local people.
“There’s a lot of pride in Newton,” Morr said. “When stuff stays local, people give.”
And they, in turn, are given a wooden nickel — one with real value to it.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org