Since Women’s March, over 10,000 vis­i­tors have do­nated SmarTrip cards

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY PERRY STEIN perry.stein@wash­post.com

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple trav­eled to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal last month for the in­au­gu­ra­tion and the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton. In the weeks since they’ve left, more than 10,000 vis­i­tors have do­nated to lo­cal char­i­ties Metro SmarTrip cards that might have oth­er­wise been dis­carded.

The idea to col­lect left­over SmarTrip cards started be­fore In­au­gu­ra­tion Day with a Mary­land woman who par­tic­i­pated in the Women’s March. Hi­lary Moore He­bert, 35, pur­chased dozens of the plas­tic cards and mailed them to a friend who was at­tend­ing with a bus full of women from New Or­leans.

Metro no longer sells dis­pos­able pa­per cards and in­stead re­quires cus­tomers to pur­chase $2 plas­tic cards, with at least $8 pre­loaded.

He­bert asked her friend whether cards with a re­main­ing bal­ance could be re­turned to her, then posted to a Face­book group in­quir­ing where to do­nate them.

Peo­ple im­me­di­ately chimed in, and word spread quickly: Af­ter the Women’s March, vol­un­teers who learned of the Face­book ef­forts went to Union Sta­tion and the main char­ter bus park­ing lot at RFK Sta­dium to col­lect cards from peo­ple as they left Wash­ing­ton.

In all, more than 10,000 cards have been do­nated to the prom­i­nent D.C. char­ity Martha’s Ta­ble. He­bert said she is still re­ceiv­ing about 1,000 cards each week in the mail at her Mary­land horse farm. She said dona­tions have come from all over the coun­try, in­clud­ing Hawaii. She is do­nat­ing them to a hand­ful of char­i­ties across the re­gion.

“I’ve never seen any­thing like this be­fore, where it’s just a bunch of strangers com­ing to­gether, and by us­ing so­cial me­dia in a re­ally pos­i­tive way,” He­bert said. “It’s some­thing that seems so straight­for­ward and easy, but it’s just some­thing that hasn’t been done be­fore.”

Ryan Palmer, chief ex­ter­nal re­la­tions of­fi­cer at Martha’s Ta­ble, said the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion has never or­ga­nized a Metro fare card do­na­tion drive, nor has it ex­ten­sively of­fered cards to clients.

Martha’s Ta­ble, which pro­vides food, fam­ily and ed­u­ca­tional sup­port to low-in­come D.C. res­i­dents, said it is sift­ing through the cards to de­ter­mine the bal­ance on each of them.

“We don’t put any re­stric­tions on it,” Palmer said. “Trans­porta­tion is ex­pen­sive, hands down, whether you are try­ing to gro­cery shop, pick up your kid from school or go to work.”

It is un­clear how many more SmarTrip cards might trickle in. The Women’s March on Jan. 21 ac­counted for Metro’s sec­ond-busiest day ever, with 1,001,613 sta­tion en­tries. The in­au­gu­ra­tion one day ear­lier saw 570,557 trips.

He­bert said peo­ple have also do­nated cards to D.C.’s Miriam’s Kitchen and the Vir­ginia char­ity Door­ways for Women and Fam­i­lies.

She said she wants to turn it into a sus­tained ef­fort, even­tu­ally work­ing with ho­tels to get their cus­tomers to do­nate Metro cards once they check out.

“Who would have thought that some­one in Hawaii could help the home­less in D.C.?” she asked. “And that I could be sit­ting in a horse farm in Ger­man­town and could end up rais­ing tens of thou­sands of dol­lars for the city.”

Palmer said do­nated Metro cards are a novel idea for Martha’s Ta­ble. The or­ga­ni­za­tion will try to mea­sure the ef­fect of the dona­tions to de­ter­mine whether the ini­tia­tive could be con­tin­ued in the fu­ture.

“This was com­pletely brand new to us,” Palmer said. “It’s re­ally sort of ev­i­dence of what can hap­pen when the com­mu­nity comes to­gether.”

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