By Devlin Smith
Tuesday evenings from June to September, the town of Whitefish, Mont., holds the Downtown Farmers' Market. Throughout June and July, six-year-old Libby Goldhirsch and her mom had a booth at the market, selling cookies and collecting coins to raise money for the African Well Fund.
Libby, who is preparing to enter the first grade, began her work for AWF in kindergarten when she enlisted the help of her classmates to collect a mile's worth of pennies (84,480 pennies or $844.80). The children collected $300. Thanks to additional support from the Whitefish community, Libby's current total is over $1,000.
Libby and her mother Malinda answered a few questions about their family's work for AWF and offered advice to other kids and families looking to get involved.
Why did Libby want to raise money for the African Well Fund?
MG: She was watching "American Idol," the "Idol Gives Back" show, and was moved by the dramatization of people walking great distances to get not very good water. The "American Idol" folks emphasized working together to help people, so rather than send $10 from her piggy bank, she decided it would be good to get her friends to help, too. We went online, Googled "African Wells" and got your site.
How did she decide to do a coin fundraiser at her preschool?
MG: Your Web site talks about the mile in her shoes fundraiser and we thought that would be a neat thing for preschool and kindergarten aged kids to get excited about.
What kind of response did she get from her classmates, teachers and other parents at the school?
MG: Everyone was very excited. The kids brought in coins and were excited to see the five-gallon water jug we were using fill up. The teachers were all very supportive and talked to the classes about it. Parents were thrilled and loved the idea that their kids were getting excited about raising money for others.
How did it make Libby and her classmates feel when they learned they collected $300?
LG: One of my teachers was very proud that I did such a great job.
MG: The kids have really taken ownership of this project and stopped by the farmers' market frequently to see how the jug was progressing. For Libby, she could see that the jug was filling up and I estimated the amount of money in it to be about $300. She wanted to do more to get it full.
Why did you and Libby decide to extend this fundraiser into the summer?
MG: Last year, Libby wanted to sell something at the farmers' market, but didn't have any real idea and I wasn't that excited about going every week, to be honest. When she saw how much money was in the jug at the end of the school year, she thought that we could set up a booth at the market and try and get more money that way.
How did you come up with the idea to sell cookies to raise money?
MG: At first, we tried selling bracelets that we beaded, but there were already a lot of beaders at the market and we didn't do that well. The cookies that we brought as an afterthought sold really well, though. From then on, we just sold cookies.
What was Libby's original goal when she decided to raise money for AWF?
MG: She had a loose goal of trying to raise a mile's worth of pennies. There was a Pennies for Peace fundraiser going on in the local public schools at the same time, so that kind of cut down on her success at first. I think that was part of the reason to go to the farmers' market, too. She wanted to fill up that jug.
What has Libby learned from working for AWF?
LG: That together, we really can make a difference.
What has your family gained from working together on this fundraiser?
MG: I think the main thing we gained is meeting all sorts of different people at the farmers' market that were interested in Libby's project. We live in a resort town and have tons of tourists in the summer. We met people from all over, some of whom had been to Africa and knew of the need for clean water there. That helped us to keep motivated.
What advice would Libby have for other kids who'd like to raise money for charity?
LG: That you should always know that you can make a difference by just a little money. It is hard, but you can do it.
What advice do you have for parents whose kids are interested in working for charity?
MG: Find out all you can about the charity and have fliers available for people to take with and "digest" on their own time. Have the kid do the signs and as much of the work as possible. Libby was really into it at first, and then I realized that I was doing most of the work. We had a little talk about it being her project, that I would love to help her, but that I didn't want to do it all by myself. She was great after that and really took it seriously. The response from people was so much better when the message came from Libby instead of me. She learned that it is a lot of work, but it's also very rewarding.
Anything else you'd like to add?
MG: It has been such a great experience for us. Libby was able to reach people from all over the country and Canada and heard their stories. She also proved that even if you are only 6, you can still do great things for other people. The kids at the Montessori school where Libby goes learned a great lesson about helping others and how rewarding it can be. They got to see the level of coins in the jug keep going up and learned that working together gets more done than if you try to do it by yourself. And the community of Whitefish was so supportive of Libby. The people at the bank were so nice and helpful, from changing checks into coins at the beginning, to counting all those coins and turning them into a check for us at the end. All in all, it was a fundraiser that touched many people, not just Libby and [our] family. I would highly recommend it to anyone.