By Gordon Williams
Chances are, you likely have more than a few coins–nickels and dimes or quarters and pennies–jingling in pockets and purses, gathering dust on a dresser or nestled with crumbs and lint under your couch cushions. Coinstar of Bellevue WA offers a way of turning that loose change into donations that help finance the work of the American Red Cross.
Thanks to Coinstar, the Red Cross gets around $100,000 a year to pay for such services as disaster response, blood collection and Service to the Armed Forces, “We offer a way for consumers to use coins that are just sitting there to do some good,” says Michael Jack, vice-president of product for the company.
The next time you go grocery shopping look for a big green Coinstar kiosk, located between the cash register and the front door.
To use a Coinstar kiosk, collect your coins, remove dirt and debris, and feed them into a tray. There is no need to sort or roll your coins or take them to a bank. In return, you get a voucher, which can be converted into spendable currency, a no-fee gift card, or you can use the money to make a tax-deductible donation to the charity of your choice. Often enough, that charitable donation is to the American Red Cross.
We are talking about real money here. Coinstar research shows the average household has $123 in coins just sitting around and benefitting no one. Take those coins to a Coinstar kiosk and they become cash to be spent or donated. “We offer a way to give back without taking money out of your pocket,” Jack says,
Founder Jens Molbak got the idea for Coinstar in 1989 while still a student at Stanford University. The company history says he was looking for an easy way to convert a jar filled with coins into ready cash. He realized there was no easy way to do it, leading him to invent the coin-processing, cash-dispensing kiosk.
The first kiosk went into use in 1992. Jack says there are more than 23,000 kiosks today in North America, Europe, and Japan. He says that more than 800 billion coins have passed through Coinstar kiosks since the first one went into operation. There is a screen on each kiosk–allowing, among other things, a description of the work done by each of the receiving charities.
Kiosks are to be found in supermarkets and other retail establishments and in financial institutions. There are six Coinstar kiosks in my town of Bremerton WA and four more in adjacent Port Orchard. There are a dozen or more kiosks in and around Seattle, Spokane, Yakima, and Everett. In other words, there is a pretty good chance that wherever you live in the Northwest region–Washington and Northern Idaho–a Coinstar kiosk is not far away. To find one near you, go to coinstar.com/findakiosk
Jack says Coinstar has a deep commitment to supporting worthy causes and the Red Cross is not the only charity that benefits, Different kiosks support different charities–most national but some local. Stores housing Coinstar kiosks can add a local charity to the list.
Among the best-known charities which Coinstar supports are the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Feeding America, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Make-a-Wish, Humane Society, and UNICEF. Jack says more than $100 million has gone to charities since kiosks were first used for charitable giving in 2002.
Being one of the biggest and best-known charities, the Red Cross was an obvious choice to be among the worthy causes Coinstar supports. In describing the charities which could benefit from a Coinstar-powered donation, the display screen says, “Your support helps the American Red Cross provide thousands of victims of disaster with food, shelter, counseling and more.”
In describing charity partners at its website, Coinstar adds this: “The American Red Cross is where people mobilize to help their neighbors–across the street, across the country, and across the world–in emergencies.” The site notes that a $6 donation to the Red Cross provides a disaster victim with a blanket while a $10 donation pays for a hot meal.
COVID obviously slowed the use of kiosks in 2020 and threatened to cut into the use of coins and currency in favor of touch-free debit cards. But Jack says the number of transactions is up in 2021. “We are almost back to where we were before COVID” he says.
Nor does he see a time when we give up coins altogether and rely solely on electronic transactions. Jack says that Coinstar research has determined that fully 25 percent of the population is what the company refers to as “cash-preferred.”
Based on that, Americans are likely to keep using–and keep hoarding–coins for a long time to come. That is good news for Coinstar and equally good for the financial health of the Red Cross, and of those who benefit from its services.