A Socially Generative, Creative, & Recycled Art Project for Middle School Students

Updated November 14, 2010

Creating “little donation guys” out of recycled materials is an art project full of positivity. After created by students, these little guys are placed on tables in a local restaurant in order to inform customers of a worthy cause and to collect their spare change. You will likely want to do this project with a talented group of students. This article explains how to fullly complete the project.

1. Decide on a worthy cause your class should fundraise for. It can be beneficial to your students to hold a class discussion in order to make this decision. What causes do we have to choose from? Which cause is the most worthy? Why is it the most worthy? How do we know that this cause is making the most positive impact? If possible, have representatives from this organization visit and teach your students more about the work they do.

2. Create a “t-shirt” to be “worn” by your little donation guy. The t-shirt should clearly display the following:

Henry was created by Jimmy Jones in grade 7 at Wild Rose Middle School. All donations collected by Henry go to Save the Dolphins.

Then include a blurb about your cause and the website. To be creative, you could add in a phrase before the last sentence to say, “Henry lives off of your spare change.”

3. Create Your Example

Finding and Preparing the Jars – Find two jars to serve as your donation guy’s body and head. The body can be plastic or glass but the top should most likely be plastic unless you have a sturdy plastic body and plan on cutting the change deposit slot on the shoulder, back, or chest instead of on the mouth or head. Clear jars, for the body at least, are prefereable so that the money inside is visible. If the jars have labels, you may neeed to soak them in warm water and use a product such as Goo-Be-Gone to fully remove them.

Building the Frame - Once you have two jars that will work together and they are clean, use your artistic ability to cut them with an exacto kife, fit them together, and glue them together with a hot glue gun or perhaps some sort of PVC cement. Before gluing, you should cut the change insertion slit and be sure that change and even bills successfully drop into the body. You should also plan a way to remove the money. If the jar used for the head has a cap, this is a perfect solution.The cap also can be used as the little guy’s hat. There are other creative solutions that could be come up with here as well.

Decorating the Little Guy - Once the jars are securely glued together, use permanent markers, paint, clothes, feathers, and other materials of your choice to decorate your little guy or girl, giving him or her a unique design and personality. Feel free to add limbs, ears, hair, and accessories, as long as you keep him or her appearing kempt. Lastly, “dress” him or her with the t-shirt.

4. Establish a partnership with a restaurant. If you have twenty students, you should talk to restaurants with at least twenty tables. You can write a letter explaining the project and your request or go in and talk in person with the owner or manager. You will likely find the best results by talking in person then leaving a letter to be looked over or by dropping off a letter to be looked over then later checking back to meet in person.

When you meet, first show the owner or manager the sample donation guy. Explain that you plan to lead a talented group of students in making these and are looking for a location to display them. It would be best to partner with a restaurant that is willing to display one on each table. This is preferred over placing them at check out counters at twenty small stores. It is much more practical for one person to establish and maintain a partnership with one location rather than twenty. It is also more practical to make collections from one location rather than twenty. Assure the owner that the little donation guys will be well done, not tacky or trashy, then be sure that your students follow through on your promise. If he or she is willing to participate but for a limited amount of time such as a month or two, keep trying to find a restuarnat that is willing to establish a partnership without an end date or for at least a year. If you can’t find a restaurant willing to participate for that long, set up a schedule with those who will particpate for shorter terms. Keep a record of restaurants you visit and their responses to you request.

5. Lead your class in creating their own little donation guys or girls. You can give them the assignment of bringing their own jars or collect jars yourself and distribute them to your students. Follow the same steps and keep the same points in mind as done when you created your example. Students should finish off their creation with his or her own personalized t-shirt.

6. Place the guys in a partnering restaurant. Be sure to tell your students which restaurant the little guys are placed in so that they can visit to see their work displayed and show their families.

7. Collect the jar contents. Visit the restaurant on a frequent basis in order to collect the donations. Most people are encouraged to give when at least a little money is visible in the jar. Apparently people are reluctant to be the first to give. However, the jar probably shouldn’t be left to get too full either. Try collecting every two weeks to see if this is an appropriate interval. Remember to leave some small change in each jar.

To encourage extra interest amontg your students, record the amount collected in each jar after each collection and report this infformation back to them.

8. Donate the collected donations to your decided cause. Know that you and your students are making a difference...and having fun while doing so!