Abe Lincoln would have been proud of the kids over at St. Mel Elementary School in Woodland Hills on Tuesday. His much-maligned penny was finally getting some respect. There’s been talk in Congress of ending production of the penny because it costs more to make than it’s worth, and people don’t seem to be using pennies much anymore except maybe to throw a few into a public fountain for good luck. Abe’s penny – which first appeared in 1909 on the centennial of his birth – is on the ropes, relegated to glass jars, seat cushions or the gutter. When’s the last time you saw someone bend down in the street to pick one up? If you have recently, chances are the someone you saw is a student at St. Mel. Last month, 180 children in the third, fourth and fifth grades at the local Catholic school collected 120,984 pennies from their families, neighbors, businesses and, yeah, from the streets. That’s $1,209.84 – strictly in pennies. Every morning the kids came to school and dumped them in large barrels at the door of every classroom for their community-service project. Some pennies came in plastic sandwich baggies, but most were loose – sticky pennies from under couch cushions or flattened ones from the street. The barrels were hefted onto trucks by the maintenance crew, taken to the bank and turned into cash. Tuesday morning at the school, the kids handed a check for $1,209.84 to Officer Jackie Hickey of the Los Angeles Police Department bomb squad to help her take care of J.J. – Jackie Junior. J.J. is a 9-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, one of five bomb-sniffing dogs working for the LAPD. Jackie and J.J. have been a team for eight years and worked together on dozens of bomb threats and post-explosion investigations. It’s a dangerous job, and the kids hoped Abe’s pennies would make it a little safer for J.J. The city pays for a bomb dog’s vet bills and food, but everything else comes from donations or out of the handler’s pocket, Hickey said. “The city doesn’t have the funds for all the safety equipment we’d like our bomb dogs to have, so this money means a lot to us,” she said Tuesday, thanking the kids. Abe’s pennies will buy special, lightweight safety vests – similar to the ones used by search-and-rescue dogs on long, hot searches – and special pads for their paws so they don’t get burned or cut by glass as the dogs sniff through blast sites. “This is amazing because we seldom get donations. This is the largest one I’ve ever seen – over a thousand dollars. Wow,” Hickey said. All in Abe Lincoln’s pennies. Third-grader Katie O’Doherty brought in $5 worth of pennies to dump into the big barrel in teacher Debbie Watrobski’s class. Blake Elder put in $16, and Drew Slipe added $12 more. “My grandpa and I would take walks before dinner looking for pennies in the street, and we found a lot,” said 9-year-old Christiana Grossi. “I found a quarter, too, but I kept that.” It wasn’t hard collecting those pennies, the kids said. In fact, it was really easy and a lot of fun. When they told their neighbors and local merchants what they needed pennies for, well, nobody ever closed a door on them, said Theresa Killmond. “Everybody had pennies they wanted to give us,” 9-year-old Theresa said. “And look what we did with all of them.” Yeah, Abe Lincoln would have been proud of the kids over at St. Mel Elementary School for bringing back some respect for his pennies. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. [email protected] (818) 713-3749160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
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