When I was a little girl, I loved going for walks with my father. I remember feeling so secure as he took my teeny, tiny hand in his big calloused palm, looking both ways as we zipped across the streets. I remember his interesting perspectives and made-up stories about the people and animals we passed along the way. I remember feeling so happy, special, and loved.
And I’ll always remember the lesson I learned when I picked up a penny.
My father had an eagle’s eye when it came to spotting coins along the road. He’d lean down, brush the dirt off its surface, hold it up so I could get a good look, and tell me to guess the year it was made. I was usually way off, but it didn’t matter. He would then give me a little story about what happened that year; that was the year the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis, that was the year the first man walked on the moon, that was the year your mother and I got married. Then he’d hand it to me.
“For good luck,” he’d say. And I would slip the coin in my pocket.
One time, I found the coin first. I lucked out because it happened to be from the year my little sister was born. I was so excited as I handed the coin over to him.
“You know what,” he said. “I have all the luck I need. Hold on to it until you find someone who really needs it.”
I don’t remember what I did with that penny, but I thought about it many years later when I was at McDonald’s with my three children.
My youngest boy darted out of line when he spotted a shiny penny over by the window. He was giddy as he handed me the coin.
“You have to pass it on for good luck,” I said.
“To who?” he asked, confused.
We were at the front of the line by this time and there on the counter was a donation box for Ronald McDonald House Charities.
“Put it in the box,” I said.
He didn’t quite get how a box counted, so I took the opportunity to explain about charity and what RMHC did for children. I told my kids how the donations went toward Ronald McDonald Houses and Ronald McDonald Family Rooms to help families stay together when a child is sick in the hospital. My son, who had never been to a hospital before, had assumed the whole family could just move into a hospital room together and live there until the child got better. It was a sweet thought, but it just wasn’t the way the world worked.
My little boy couldn’t reach the top of the box but asked me to pick him up so he could put the penny in by himself.
“Can we give more, Mommy?” he asked.
“We certainly can,” I said. And I put all the change I got back from the cashier into the box.
I explained to my kids that there were RMHC donation boxes in McDonald’s all around the world and that every penny counted. When the money is all pooled together, it adds up. And every penny goes toward helping families and giving them the luck, the strength, the hope, and the help to get through whatever it is they are facing.
That donation box left a deep impression on my kids, just as the pennies from heaven I used to find with my father did on me. And now, every time we go to McDonald’s, our spare change goes right into the RMHC donation box. And every time we leave McDonald’s, we feel just a little bit better about ourselves.
See more ways to give back in our Giving Back Guide!