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Five cents at a time

Everyday, she goes looking for change. Collecting bottles along her regular route, Sibyl Whalley, age 84, has raised over $100,000…

By Jodie Martinson , in Chances for change , on January 13, 2009 Tags: , , , ,

Everyday, she goes looking for change.

Collecting bottles along her regular route, Sibyl Whalley, age 84, has raised over $100,000 for charity, one five-cent bottle return at a time. She’s committed. She hasn’t missed more than 10 days of walking her route in the past twenty years, she says.

Change has been on my mind. Obama got elected on it, the climate is doing it, and the economy is flopping into a fundamentally different kind from that I have grown up with.

The changes in the world demand changes in us: those of us in rich countries need to rethink our place in their world right alongside Obama’s America, the evidence of climate change compels us to claw our way into a carbon-free future, and maybe it’s time to change our expectations of the economic system from one that exasperates socio- and eco-injustice to one that works better for the poor and the natural world.

Yeah, right. Keep dreaming idealist.

Several years ago I saw a documentary that has stuck with me ever since. “The Chances of the World Changing” followed an author through the loss of his New Jersey penthouse, bankruptcy, the loss of his career, and some would argue even his marbles as he fights to save turtle species from extinction.

He buys into the documentary being made about his struggle because he believes it is about turtle conservation. Really, the documentary is about him and all of those who campaign in their own small ways for the world to change despite the odds.

Who are they? What keeps them going? Are they fundamentally different than the rest of us who are just trying to make a buck? Or do we all, in our own ways, take our chances to change the world?

When I talk to Sybil, that’s what I’m trying to understand.

“Where do you send the money you raise?”

“Oh,” she says. “To about thirty-eight different charities. And I started sending money for cancer research before I got breast cancer, you know.”

True altruism, I think. No matter how I prod, I can’t find a selfish motivation besides that it makes her feel good to help people.

“I’m just out spreading sunshine,” she adds. “I walk very closely with God.”

When Sibyl went into the hospital to have her breast removed on a Tuesday, she had told Ray, a shopkeeper on her bottle collecting route, that she would be “off for a few days.”

When he asked why and she told him, he said she would be, or at least should be, gone for six weeks.
By Friday, three days later, Sibyl age 78 at the time, was back making change.

“She’s back!” the shopkeeper exclaimed as she bumbled her way in through the door with her bottle cart.

“Told you, Ray,” Sibyl shot back.