The idea of collecting pennies came to me shortly after my daughter Katelyn gave birth to my grandson, Peyton. Born with half of a heart and given little chance at life, people, mostly strangers, from all over prayed for him. Not only did they pray, they stepped in and donated what they could for his care at a time that my family was in great need. This was a side of love from others that I had never experienced in life but most importantly there was a greatness in that love that I wanted to pass on and give back.
At an office party with one hundred or more friends and co-workers, the phone rings and it is time. I am going to be a grandmother. Twenty seven hours later, born two months premature, I am walking into the neonatal intensive care unit where my daughter, physically tired and emotionally distraught, collapses in my arms. I catch her just before her knees hit the floor and she cries out, “Will I ever get to hold him again, Mom?” Looking over her shoulder, I see Peyton. My heart aches deeper as my eyes take it all in. His tiny four pound body lying there with tubes and needles stuck in all parts of him. I want to fix it, make it all better, unhook him, hold him, take away the pain and hug away the tears. I want to kiss his little face, snuggle with him and tickle his fat toes. I want to reassure her that it is going to be okay but I am without answers and I do not have the words. I cannot help but feel as if I was dropped in the middle of a lifetime movie. After all, this was one of those moments. A story that you read about in a bestselling novel or watch unfold in a Sunday afternoon matinee. The life of a family turned upside down, a tragedy written or one played out. I cannot wrap my mind around it. This was not a book I was reading or a movie that I was watching, this was my family, my daughter and my grandson. There was no script. I could not turn the page and I did not have the answers.
The doctor approaches and I learn that Peyton has an extremely rare congenital heart condition known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. The left ventricle of his heart does not exist so it is not able to pump blood to his brain or his body. His case is considered extremely rare because not only did his heart form without a left ventricle, the right side of his heart developed at half the size it should be. Peyton would remain in the neonatal intensive care unit of Birmingham hospital and his parents would have to stay close by. There would be several blood transfusions, medical test and a series of drug treatments used to keep him alive. He was too small at the moment but when it was time he would undergo the first of three heart bi-pass surgeries needed to save his life. In a gentle way, the doctor tells us that Peyton has little chance of survival; he makes us no promises, prepares us for the worst, kindly says that he is sorry and excuses himself. I was not sure if he knew or not but God is really all we have as a lifeline and in knowing that, I stood over Peyton and prayed. My first grandchild, a baby that I had not yet held in my arms, I ask God to heal. I ask that if He needed someone to take me, to use me instead and to make Peyton whole. I begged God to heal him and to give him the strength and the will for life. I thanked Him for his guidance and asked Him for his grace. I promised in return that whatever He put on me I would do on earth or in Heaven. I would do all of the work if He would do all the worry, if He would heal Peyton’s wounds and dry up Katelyn’s tears because alone in life without Him, I know that nothing is possible.
The accommodations that the hospital could provide had no vacancies and when and if something became available, it would not be free and was not covered by any type of medical insurance. The case worker referred them to a local hotel and told them that it was their best option. Then there was the need for gas for transportation back and forth, daily parking fees and food. Not to mention their loss of income from time off work and the cost of their residence in Huntsville.
It was all lying heavily on my heart and arriving home, I was flooded with phone calls and emails that I did not have the strength to answer. How was I going to inform everyone without falling apart? The heartache was deeper than any I had ever known. Sitting at the computer I began to type an email, laying out the facts, I told everyone in my address book about Peyton Douglas Mills, my grandson, the fighter, “Power House Peyton” as I referred to him and in less than an hour I explained my family’s burden and expressed our pain only to find myself overwhelmed with help from others in a matter of minutes. The phone rings from a number I do not recognize. It is a doctor from the hospital; she received my email from a friend and will gladly open her home to my family. Everyone can stay as long as needed, there is plenty of room, free meals, parking passes for the hospital garage and no cost involved. The door bell rings, it is one friend, family member or co-worker after another providing basic needs. Some have taken up a collection to help with gas, the mortgage payment on Katelyn’s home or other expenses and some are offering to do house sitting, yard work while others have brought gifts for Peyton. Knitted prayer blankets were made by total strangers with bows sewn on at the altar and cards and signs made with bold words of well wishes arrived in droves, a good many of those from people we were yet to meet. I would tell Peyton when I saw him again just how much he was loved. He had so many people praying for him and taking care of his family so they did not have to worry, all they had to do was take care of him.
The love that we received was so overwhelming. For three years, as Peyton under went three heart bi-pass surgeries and a string of other medical procedures before fully coming home, there were emails, phone calls and gifts coming from everywhere. Individuals that met our needs, eased our burden and never ever expected a thing in return. It felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted off of my shoulders and I would be forever grateful. I do not know how my family would have gotten through it all without them and I did not know how I was going to pay it all back. Then, visiting my father one day, I found myself staring at this old 20 gallon water jug full of pennies. What was he going to do with all of those pennies? “Donate them,” was the answer that popped into my head. I had an idea. I located a jug for myself, labeled it “The Annual Penny Drive” and started advertising by word of mouth and over the internet.
The first year we collected and anonymously donated before Christmas, $443.11 to a young housewife and college student whose husband had just died leaving her with two sons and no life insurance or other income to fall back on. The next year we collected $774.46 and donated it to an elderly woman, who lived alone, had no one to care for her and was in failing health. The third year, we collected and donated $1093.15 in pennies and donated them to a member of the penny drive family, whose husband unexpectedly passed away. Her husband was not just a member of this family but a friend too many of us and our collected pennies helped his family in a great time of need. And last year, our fourth year doing the Annual Penny Drive, we collected a total of $1213.97 in pennies and anonymously donated them to two courageous women, a mother Brenda and her 24 year old daughter Keandra. Brenda was in desperate need of a kidney transplant and Keandra, being the perfect match, offered to donate one of hers. Keandra not only struggled with taking care of her mother, she struggled financially because she was forced to work less hours. Our donation did not solve all of their financial woes but it helped them in a big way!! After receiving our donation, Brenda and Keandra mailed a card to the Christian Organization that we donate through, thanking us. It was marked ‘ATTENTION OUR ANNUAL PENNY DRIVE FAMILY OF ANGELS” and they thanked us for taking the time to do the small stuff that truly means the most.
The Annual Penny Drive is still going and today has several businesses displaying penny jugs for those that want to donate. It has blossomed into something much more than I ever anticipated.
The graciousness of others and through the answered prayers of God in my family’s time of need has taught me that we can all help in very small ways. One email sent was one email passed on that met a lot of needs, one penny given by each turned into $1217.57 in pennies donated that met a lot of needs. We can all donate in little ways. It is not about giving money or buying gifts, it is about the giving of yourself to others. Making time for others; making yourself available to others. If you are not using it, let someone in need use it. If you do not need it, let someone who lacks have it. Take the time to listen to someone who needs to talk, feed someone who is hungry, loan a bed to someone who needs a place to sleep, donate your time to cut the yard for an elderly neighbor because one day we will be elderly ourselves, one day we will need someone to listen, one day we will need something to eat. At some point in all of our lives we need someone. Today let that someone be you.
For updates on the Annual Penny Drive, go to ‘The Annual Penny Drive’ HERE.
To meet Powerhouse Peyton and get updates on him, go to ‘POWERHOUSE Peyton’ HERE.
Join our mailing list by sending an email to the email@example.com
Donate to the Annual Penny Drive at:
Redstone Federal Credit Union
Annual Penny Drive\Kerri Bishop Reece
220 Wynn Drive
Huntsville, Al 35893