Qantas passengers have raised $31 million for UNICEF’s Change for Good program – and that’s not counting all the surprise “donations” of engagement rings.
Mike Marchant can’t recall how many engagement rings he’s found in UNICEF Australia’s Change for Good envelopes over the years. Although the Counting House manager does remember a particularly stunning one – a black-opal ring whose owner didn’t intend to give quite so generously when she dug into her purse for loose change.
“People often take off their rings because their fingers might swell during the flight,” says Marchant. “And then they realise too late that the ring went in with the change!” (Rest assured, the opal ring was returned to its grateful owner in the United Arab Emirates.)
Rings aside, the Change for Good (CFG) program collects small change from airline passengers and uses it to make a big difference in the lives of those in need. How big? Well, if you consider that, by UNICEF’s estimation, $10 can vaccinate 10 children against polio and that the program collected more than $1.4 million in change from Qantas customers last year alone, the impact is significant.
The money finds its way to Marchant and his colleagues, Peter Bentley and Ron Gyde, at the CFG Counting House located at Sydney Airport. Lining one wall of a small, unassuming office – which used to be a warehouse canteen – are 200 clean milk cartons with the tops cut off. Each carton has a different label attached – “Seychelles”, “Finland”, “Samoa” – and inside are the coins belonging to those countries.
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It’s decidedly lo-fi in the Counting House; there’s no counting machine or computer. Each coin and note (and ring) is manually sorted by Marchant, Bentley, Gyde and a small team of volunteers. Everyone at the Counting House is a former Qantas employee and UNICEF likes to keep it that way – the more engaged Qantas staff are with the Change for Good program, the better the results. “Remember Rosie from Melbourne?” Marchant asks Bentley of a Qantas cabin-crew member who was especially passionate. “The bags off Rosie’s flights were always the heaviest.”
Bags full of change are received from capital cities most days. Once the money has been sorted at the Counting House and deposited into UNICEF’s account, it’s allocated by UNICEF headquarters in New York to where it’s needed most. There are many ongoing programs but CFG funds often go towards responding to emergencies. The organisation provides children and families with nourishment, sanitation, health care and education.
It’s vital work: currently, there are more displaced people globally than at any time since World War II.
Back at the Counting House, Marchant and Bentley are sorting currencies, placing coins into neat piles. Today, there have been no unusual deposits but if there were, they wouldn’t make it far – they safely hold on to all the rings donated by accident until claimed by their owners.