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Penny Garden feeds the needy

Penny Garden feeds the needy

May 23, 2008

Kettering students helped the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan prepare a space for its Penny Garden fundraiser.

Like all good gardeners who plan their gardens during the cold winter months, the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan (FBEM) started planning for the spring launch of their new fundraising drive in January. Utilizing a gardening theme, the FBEM approached Kettering University engineering students to help with their “Penny Garden.”

The Penny Garden Project is designed to gather pennies as “compost” to provide nutrients for those in need. The penny drive has a goal of raising $75,000 in the Flint area by the end of September. The FBEM asked the Kettering students to design a container that could withstand the weight of $75,000 worth of pennies, or more than 50,000 pounds.  The container they designed is a six and a half-foot tall cylinder, seven feet in diameter made out of polycarbonate. The volume of the container equals 250 cubic feet. 

The container is located at the FBEM and is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 a. m. until 4 p.m. to drop off pennies.

The real SERVICE design team consisted of Erin Torchala, of Macomb, MI, a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering/Bioengineering, Jeff Nolen, of Dewitt, MI, a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering/Automotive, and Kennet Magnus, of Clarkston, MI, a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering/Automotive. The team had help from Dr. Massoud Tavakoli, professor of Mechanical Engineering. 

After designing the container based on the requirements of the FBEM, the real SERVICE team submitted the design to Stellar Plastics, a plastic fabrication company inDetroit, who built the container and shipped it to Flint. 

The Penny Garden Project has a lot of support in the community. In addition to Kettering University’s real SERVICE group designing the container, the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce, Mass Transportation Authority of Flint, many Genesee County schools, as well as several other businesses and individuals are participating but collecting pennies or hosting penny collection jugs.

From April 22 (Earth Day) through the month of September, participants will collect pennies in recycled milk cartons.  Each milk carton contains approximately 33 pounds of pennies.

Participating school districts, individuals, organizations or businesses can choose what FBEM program will receive the pennies it collects.  Programs include the Kid’s Backpack Program, which provides weekend nutritional food to children in need, the Senior Box Program that gives low income senior citizens an additional 50-plus pounds of food each month, or a Mobile Food Pantry, a truck that goes out into neighborhoods.

In Michigan, it is estimated that a million people a year need help with food and go to a local emergency food provider for help.  More than 400 local agencies rely on the Food Bank ofEastern Michigan to stock their shelves.

For more information about the Penny Garden Project visit the Food Bank of Eastern Michiganweb site at

real SERVICE is a service organization founded by Kettering graduate Jason Braman '05 that connects college students with service opportunities.

Written by Dawn Hibbard