Man turns unwanted coins into helpful cash | AspenTimes.com

Man turns unwanted coins into helpful cash

Katharine Weiss
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN ” Charles Israel has turned those pesky foreign coins into more than $20,000 for UNICEF’s Change for Good program.

When Israel was a president of Pitkin County Bank, more than 20 years ago, he became frustrated by all of the foreign coins that were coming back from people’s vacations and jamming up the bank’s machines.

“We had a coin machine that foreign coins were jamming and at the same time, various machines in town like parking meters were being jammed by foreign coins,” said Israel. “With our coin machines we would have trouble counting people’s coins. We pulled them out and put them aside.”

Soon after, Israel took a second look at the coins and began sorting by countries.

“I started using those coins to create funding for a scholarship for children’s education that still goes on at the high school today,” Israel said.

The coins, along with a separate balance of money that Israel himself contributes, were used to provide a $500 scholarship for top student athletes. The program still exists in the former Pitkin County Bank, now a Vectra Bank.

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It wasn’t until a personal trip to Europe that Israel first heard about Change for Good program sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund, better known as UNICEF.

After calling to find out more about the program Israel began collecting and sending all of the foreign coins from the bank to the Change for Good fund.

“People come back from Europe and they don’t know what do with their coins so I collect their coins and I pay for the postage to send them to UNICEF,” he said. “The postage can get quite heavy.”

Israel says that despite the personal and financial burden of having to collect and pay to send the coins, he is happy to do it.

“Everybody does charity and it goes to a good cause,” he said. “The fact that UNICEF has given $60 million worth of these coins I just think is fabulous.”

After years of collecting the coins himself, Israel decided he wanted to open up the project to the rest of the community.

“I got to thinking about it, I don’t need money,” said Israel. “I can pay the cost of sending the coins but I’d like to get all the coins I can get.”

Israel began to get other banks involved with the project, including the former Pitkin County Bank from which he retired several years ago.

“They find it a pain in the ass but they do it for me,” said Israel. “I’d like to get all banks to participate.”

Israel also wants to see individual participation in the program. He said that all people have to do is put the coins aside for him and he will make sure that they get transported to New York.

“If you come back with dollars, that has a value to you, but if you come back with coins they are valueless. You can take in paper money, but not coins. There is nothing to do but throw the coins in the garbage or stick them into machines.”

Israel says that he would like to see all of Aspen participate, calling the program “tremendous.” Israel added that it is particularly interesting how the program started and how far it has come.

“[The program] was founded by Audrey Hepburn. She lived in Europe but worked in California and would always put coins in her purse and she started collecting them,” said Israel. “At the time she died they had collected $8 million in foreign coins. Since that time, the program has grown to collect an extra $52 million.”

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