My employer is running a fun contest called “Penny Wars” this month to get people to contribute money to the Maryland Food Bank. The way it works is that we have 3 big empty water jugs assigned to 3 teams. Any coins put into a jug count towards that team’s total, and any bills count against them. One thin dollar bill undoes the work of 100 pennies, but all the money goes to a good cause.

Here’s part of the letter I sent out to my team to get them fired up:


I am incredibly excited about Penny Wars. My wife is a big booster of the Maryland Food Bank, and for good reason. They’re the folks that are providing food and money to over 600 soup kitchens, food pantries, and emergency shelters. In 2011 they distributed 23 MILLION POUNDS OF FOOD to people in Maryland. Try to imagine that. No, really. A gallon of milk is about as dense as food gets, and it’s 8 pounds. Try to picture, if you can, 2,875,000 gallons of milk.

Can’t do it? Me neither. It’s a staggering 384,332 cubic feet. Stacked one on another, that’s over 80 miles of milk. It would fill 1,779 cement mixers, which, lined up, would stretch for over 12 miles.

So they’re doing a lot of good work.

But here’s what sucks: people are still going hungry. Even in a prosperous state like Maryland, over half a million of our neighbors live below the poverty line. Only 15% of the people they help are homeless – the rest are regular folks like you and me who are having to make choices like, “do I eat, or get my prescriptions filled?” These are the kids of working families that find themselves short at the end of the month. These are elderly people struggling to make their social security check last. These are hard-working folks who for whatever reason – whether it be the recession, a disability, or just bad luck – are going hungry.

That is shameful. The only upside I can think of is that WE GET TO HELP. And I’m here to make sure we do. :-)

If you want to, you can give some non-perishable goods to the drive, but it’s a terrible idea. First of all, with cash the Maryland Food Bank can buy the same products at a much lower cost. Secondly, getting rid of that canned salmon you don’t remember buying for that party in ‘97 will certainly make room in your pantry, but it’s probably not what people need or want. But worst of all, that means hauling around food like a schmuck. Just think of it: the cans rattling around in your back seat, the bag breaking in the elevator leaving you scrambling around on the ground. LIKE AN ANIMAL. Nobody wants that.

The food bank can do a lot more with cash.

What some (lucky few) of you may not know about me is that I’m ridiculously competitive, but only:

  1. when there is almost nothing on the line,

  2. there’s a good charity involved, and

  3. I can throw money at a problem.

Given that we’re now engaged in a war over pennies where the victor gets nothing more than bragging rights (criterion 1) to support the Maryland Food Bank (criterion 2), where cash can ruin things for other teams (TRIFECTA!!!), this is like Christmas for me.***** Because of this, I’m going to be doing everything in my power to win this thing for Team 2.

I hope you’ll join me in this.

(Where by “hope”, I mean that I fully intend to spend the rest of this month cajoling each of you [and both of the other teams] into giving more than you want to. __Sorry_.**)_

If anyone would like to schedule a strategy meeting, that would be great, but I’d like to propose some team priorities:

  • Most importantly: the other teams should finish negative. Winning is great, but only if somebody else loses – and loses big.

  • Just finishing the least negative is not an option: we have to get some serious coin going.

  • Those are some big bottles – let’s fill ‘em up.

In addition, I’m hearing from other teams that their strategy is to wait until the end and just drop a couple hundred dollar bills in the other buckets. And you know, that’d probably work in a lot of contests, but that’s my idea of a starting place. They’re thinking about how to win with the least effort, but victory here is victory for the food bank. Winning isn’t about doing the least, it’s about helping the most. And I want to win by forcing them to recognize day after day how far they’re falling behind and how much money they need to put in JUST TO AVOID LOOKING LIKE JERKS.***

Who’s with me?

** Christmas where the presents go to people who need them way more than my spoiled kids. ** **Not sorry**. **Not even a little. **** **But it won’t work. They’re going to look like the stingy love-child of Ebenezer Scrooge and Scrooge McDuck by month’s end.

p.s. Given my considerable level of excitement at the chance to make other people feel ashamed for their lack of charitable giving in a way that then drives them to give money to charity, there’s a good chance you’ll be getting more emails about this subject from me between now and November 30th than you’re comfortable with. If that’s the case, let me know, and I’ll take you off the list and put you on a list of people who hate charity, fun, and winning. Emails will consist entirely of pictures of children crying.


After sending this out to my team, I sent the other teams pictures of me dropping cash into their buckets.

I’m clearly a little crazy, but I’m not wrong about the Maryland Food Bank. If you’re in a generous mood this time of year, I encourage you to donate what you can. Thanks.