Flurry of support fills teens penny jar for tzedakah

The pennies are flowing freely these days for Emily Dubois.

Shortly after getting a hail of publicity about her eight-month campaign to raise 1.5 million pennies for Israeli victims of terror, the Palo Alto teen has collected hundreds of dollars worth of them.

Dubois, who heads social action and tikkun olam projects for Palo Alto United Synagogue Youth, wants to help out Israeli families who have lost loved ones. Back in September, she launched her penny drive with a goal of raising $15,000.

The 17-year-old Palo Alto High School student got a big boost recently after stories on her effort appeared first in the Jewish Bulletin, then in the San Jose Mercury News and Palo Alto Weekly newspapers. Last week, her campaign made the 11 o'clock news on San Jose-based NBC11 television.

"It was unbelievable," said Dubois, who admits that when the television station first called asking for an interview, "I said, 'You're joking.'" They weren't.

Since garnering all the attention, Dubois says she's been getting pennies from all over.

The most recent tally was $7,006.43 — up from the $4,792.66 figure reported by the Bulletin on May 16.

Perhaps as important as the penny total are some of the stories behind the donations.

A Daly City woman who lost much of her family in the Holocaust donated her penny collection after reading about Dubois' drive. The 1.5 million penny goal represents the number of children killed in the Holocaust.

A San Francisco man said he'd been waiting for the right cause for the pennies he'd been collecting for some time. When he read about Dubois' campaign, he said he finally found it.

And a woman whose husband is studying to become a rabbi told Dubois that the couple didn't have much money, but she went through their house and scrounged up whatever pennies she could find. "They gave me a couple of dollars worth and wrote me a thank-you note for all I've done," said Dubois. "That was really incredible."

At school, Dubois' classmates have been digging into their pockets to give her their spare change. One teacher wants her to have a jar of pennies, and other teachers have offered to set out collection jugs when classes resume in the fall.

At Palo Alto Congregation Kol Emeth, a staffer has collected a couple of $100 checks from donors who heard about the drive.

And Dubois returned home one evening to find a big jar of pennies on her doorstep with an anonymous note reading, "Thank you for doing this."

The flurry of attention came at a busy time for Dubois, who is studying for final exams as she winds up her junior year.

In a couple of weeks, she will head off to Argentina for a 17-day community service trip helping the Jewish community there as part of the Diller Teen Fellow leadership program.

Dubois' mother, Ellen, is delighted by the boost that her daughter's campaign has received. "It's wonderful," said Ellen Dubois. "And I think she'll be getting closer to her goal."

In addition, she said, "I think the media attention has been wonderful, because it allows Jews and non-Jews to participate."

Asked if she's still committed to reaching her $15,000 goal, Emily Dubois didn't hesitate. "Oh yes, 100 percent. I knew when I started this that I'm definitely going all the way."