If you are looking for a holiday project, the Ms. Cheap Penny Drive for Second Harvest may be just for you.

The drive, whose goal is to raise money to help feed our hungry neighbors in Middle Tennessee, runs through December, and there are so many easy ways to get involved either by collecting coins or through the virtual drive, in which you can easily contribute online — and ask friends to join you.

This is my favorite project of the year, and I am so thrilled that Main Street Media of Tennessee and NewsChannel 5 are serving as sponsors, along with Pinnacle Financial Partners and Wilson Bank and Trust.

Dozens of companies — law firms, retailers, public relations firms, real estate companies — are participating, along with churches and other organizations.

And it is so great to see so many schools using the drive to help their students learn how to give back to the community and learn about the tremendous need out there: Battle Ground Academy Middle School students have come up with numerous fundraising projects, including a bake sale and an Out of Uniform Day that they pay to enjoy; Episcopal School of Nashville is doing a schoolwide Penny Drive project; and the preschoolers at the Children’s Center at Belle Meade Methodist Church will feed their coins to a special Penny Drive piggy bank as they talk about hunger and how they can help fight it.

It is startling and sad to learn that hunger is a reality for an estimated 400,000 Middle Tennesseans. Second Harvest believes that 1 in 8 people, including 1 in 7 children in Middle Tennessee, is at risk of hunger, meaning they don’t know when or where they will get their next meal.

And with COVID-19, higher unemployment, evictions and other factors, Second Harvest CEO Nancy Keil says the need continues to grow in the 46 Middle Tennessee counties that her food bank serves with the help of its almost 500 partner agencies and organizations.

“As prices of consumer goods soar and rent rates increase, many of our neighbors can’t afford the healthy food they need to thrive. On top of this, the holidays are approaching — the time when need is greatest,” Keil said.

“We need your help to keep up,” she said, adding that the food bank has been “operating way above our normal capacity for the past year and a half during the global pandemic … and now we must prepare for our busiest season of the year.”

The Penny Drive, which we started in 2009, is designed to raise awareness of the hunger issue as well as money to feed hungry people. So far, it has raised $1.4 million for Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. And that translates into about 5 million meals.

“Many people think that you have to give a large amount to make a difference, but the beauty of the Penny Drive is that it shows that any amount helps,” said Ally Parsons, chief development and marketing officer for Second Harvest. “The funds raised from the Penny Drive go directly to helping those experiencing hunger in our Middle Tennessee community and make a significant difference.”

There are plenty of easy and fun ways that you can help feed your neighbors through the Ms. Cheap Penny Drive:

• Donate online to the virtual food drive: shfbmt.convio.net/goto/pennydonation2021.

• Pick up a Penny Drive can (or make your own collection container) and start dropping your change — and paper money — into the can each day. Cans and/or labels are available at most Pinnacle Financial Partners and Wilson Bank and Trust locations. But making your own containers is a great project for creative kiddos and a good chance to talk to them about hunger and how many families struggle.

• Create a competition in your office and see which department can raise the most money.

• Organize a Penny Drive bake sale and make some goodies to take to work or school to sell, with proceeds going to Second Harvest.

• Make your holiday party a “party with a purpose” by asking your guests to bring donations (coins, cash and checks) for Second Harvest instead of a host or hostess gift.

• Share the Penny Drive details on your social media and encourage others to participate using the hashtag #mscheappennydrive.

• Feel good about whatever you collect. You are definitely making a difference because Second Harvest is able to provide four meals for every $1 donated. Rest assured that every penny counts, so please join us.

This is one time when Ms. Cheap does not say “Stay cheap.”

With this, I say “Give much and give often!”

Mary Hance, who has four decades of journalism experience in the Nashville area, writes a weekly Ms. Cheap column. She also appears on Thursdays on “Talk of the Town” on NewsChannel 5. Reach her at mscheap@mainstreetmediatn.com and follow her on Facebook as Facebook.com/mscheap.

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