Co-op Makes Change One Penny at a Time

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/3/2016 12:27:07 AM
Modified: 9/3/2016 12:27:14 AM

Lebanon — When Lebanon Co-op customer Sonia Peters stepped up to a register to pay for her purchase on Friday, she was surprised by an unfamiliar prompt that appeared on the pinpad machine immediately after she swiped her card.

“Oh, what a good idea!” she exclaimed, as the cashier explained the concept to her: Press “Yes” on the screen, and the difference in change that rounds the purchase up to the nearest dollar will be donated to charity.

The Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society has raised nearly $50,000 in the three months since it debuted Pennies For Change.

How the program works was quickly evident from exchanges between clerks and shoppers on Friday afternoon at the Co-op’s Lebanon store, where business was brisk before the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Sixty percent of the Co-op’s receipts through the program are divided equally among its “food access partners:” Listen Community Services, the Upper Valley Haven and Willing Hands.

The remaining 40 percent is distributed among a rotating group of “community partners,” who change each month.

Apparently, there are some situations in which rounding purchases up and down is not regarded as a good practice. A flyer attached to a card reader at the Co-op announced that Pennies for Change raised $17,771.16 in August.

The number has risen steadily each month, according to Amanda Charland, the Co-op’s director of member services and outreach.

Pennies for Change is partially based on the organization’s existing “community partners” program, which allowed customers to leave donations in boxes kept near the registers.

The inspiration for the electronic model comes from other co-ops, such as City Market in Burlington, she said.

And for those who pay with cash, the option to round up still is available. A clerk can simply press a button and return no change, sending the remainder to charity instead, Charland said.

A news post on the Co-op’s website credits the community partner program’s director, Emily Rogers, with the idea.

In the first hour at the White River Junction store, customers donated $10, the post said; in the first day, $125.

Now the total for June, July and August stands at just under $50,000, according to the “Pennies for Change” page on the Co-op website.

Co-op employees described the reaction as mixed but positive.

“Some of our customers are a little timid about it,” said Courtney Carleton, a clerk at the Lebanon store, explaining that sometimes people mistakenly think the money goes to the Co-op.

In fact, the Co-op, as intermediary for the customers’ charitable donations, cannot write the proceeds off on its tax return, Charland said. Nor can the customers, because of the Co-op’s involvement, she added.

Other people on Friday appeared to see the program as an imposition.

“Oh, this is still going?” one man said, frowning at the screen. “I mean, I supported it at the beginning, but ...” he trailed off.

As Allison Kennett, another employee, put it, “Some people don’t like change — no pun intended.”

But it was a resounding success with Peters, who is director of development at The Riverside School, a private academy in Lyndonville, Vt.

“I’m wondering whether there isn’t some way for us to do something like it,” she said, referring to her school.

And at the Co-op, Pennies for Change appears to be here to stay.

“We plan to make this a permanent program,” Charland said. “The response from members and customers has been really positive.”

The Co-op is working on a system that can tabulate each customer’s contributions, she said, which would allow that person to check on how much he or she has given.

“Once the program’s rolled out and people are really familiar with it, we’re hoping the cashier won’t even have to explain it,” she said.

“You get trained on the pin pad system, and then we threw another question in there. We threw a few customers off their habit, but now, I think, it’s becoming habit for them.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at or 603-727-3242.

Valley News

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