A Salt Lake bank spent the better part of Tuesday sorting through 1 million pennies - that's 31/2 tons of copper - collected by Highland High School students and donated to the city's homeless shelter.
When Zions First National Bank employees are finished with the task they will have amassed $10,000, give or take $100, the product of a three-week "United With Pride" penny drive, Highland Principal Ivan Cendese said."We've gathered together 1 million small pennies and come up with $10,000," Student Body President Brad Rasmussen said at a Tuesday morning assembly where he presented Mayor Palmer DePaulis a giant check.
The money will be donated to the Salt Lake Shelter and Resource Center, a homeless facility opened last month at 210 S. Rio Grande St. and operated by Traveler's Aid, DePaulis said.
The school began the drive in November during United With Pride Week, a program designed to unify Highland High students and those from South High School, which closed last year under a districtwide consolidation.
"With South coming in and so many new students, we figured our greatest challenge would be unifying our students," Rasmussen said.
"People noticed there were always pennies on the floor and no one attached any significance to them," student government adviser George Henry said, describing the genesis of the penny drive.
Students built a huge, glass "H" for Highland and calculated its volume would hold $10,000 in pennies, "within a hundred dollars," Cendese said. Students contributed to the vessel daily, he said.
The plan worked, Cendese said, admitting he was astonished with the effort put forth by the 2,000 students who competed among home rooms to see who could collect the most pennies.
The drive sent a message to the community about "a group of high school students who people complain about all the time," Cendese told the students at the assembly.
"We've said that we are compassionate, that we are concerned about the poor," he said.
DePaulis, holding the giant $10,000 check high above his head, told students he is proud of them and evoked passages from a speech given by the Rev. Jesse Jackson at the U.S. Conference of Mayors last summer in Salt Lake City.
"He talked about the strength of our nation. Everybody is like a patch, a piece of cloth, different in every way. But when that patch is put together, they become a very large tapestry," he said.
"The pennies you've collected are a very strong statement but don't mean as much until they're put together," he said to the cheers of students.
DePaulis said the money will go to the homeless shelter "to allow people to help themselves" and most importantly, "to have pride and dignity."
Patrick Pouland, Traveler's Aid director, told the students "each penny you've given us I look at as a dream, as a hope, and what you've given the homeless is a lot of hope."
The money will be committed to "increasing the service capacity" at the shelter, particularly in counseling services.