Virginia has raised over $20,000 for charity— one penny at a time!
Virginia Wainman has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the hospital that lovingly cared for her husband—and she’s done it just one penny at a time!
Dressed in her coral volunteer smock, Virginia Wainman chatted cheerily with a patient as she pushed his wheelchair down the hall. It was 1984 and her first day volunteering at York Central Hospital in Richmond Hill, Ontario. As she entered the oncology ward, Virginia’s heart twinged as she remembered her time there with her first husband during his final days battling cancer. But the initial tug of sadness was quickly replaced by a swell of gratitude for the support the staff had given her through that difficult time.
That’s why I am here, Virginia smiled. To give back.
As months became years, Virginia did everything from escorting patients to manning the information desk. But she longed to do more.
And in 2002, when her church held a successful penny fundraiser, she found a way.
“I want to start a Pennies for Miles drive for the hospital!” Virginia told her volunteer director, explaining that there are 84,480 pennies in a mile. “So if we collect one mile of pennies that’s $844.80!” she beamed. “I’ll even roll all of the pennies myself.”
Receiving a thumbs-up, Virginia excitedly placed a large jar, labeled Pennies for Miles, at the front desk where she was stationed, sparking curiosity— and donations! And with every “plunk” of a little copper coin, she’d flash her trademark milewide smile.
Virginia was so upbeat and kind that staff and
patients nicknamed her
Sunshine and Smiley. As months passed,
the pennies added up, and by year’s end, Virginia had raised her first mile of pennies and started on mile two.
“It’s the Penny Lady!” bank workers would say, seeing her wheel in her buggy filled to the brim with hundreds of penny rolls.
In 10 years time, Virginia turned in 19 miles and $16,000 worth of pennies! Then in 2012, the little copper coin was phased out in Canada. Without missing a beat, Virginia renamed her mission Coins for Health and began collecting nickels, dimes and quarters instead.
Today, 80-year-old Virginia has raised $21,971—the equivalent of more than 26 miles of pennies!—for the hospital, now renamed Mackenzie Health Richmond Hill. Her unwavering service has also earned her several awards. Most recently, TD Canada Trust contributed $5,000 to her cause.
“After 33 years, she continues to show up with the biggest smile,” says Karen Andersen, Director of Volunteer & Community Resources. “That smile welcomes every person that comes through our doors. I think that is the most important service that she provides. The coins are just a bonus.”
And at that, Virginia smiles. “I’ll help as long as I can because giving back is a gift to myself,” she says. “I see folks coming in for a test or surgery, and they’re always anxious, but when I smile at them, they smile back. Whether it’s pennies or smiles, little things can make a big difference!”
I’ll help as long as I can . . . giving back is a gift to myself