How a piggy bank named Chunky is changing lives in Orange County
By Brad Wright –
A few years ago, the Phoenix Feather Academy of Music crammed a donation barrel into its cramped hallway for a holiday food drive.
And the young music students and their families responded with a steady stream of cans of food, bags of rice and boxes of cereal.
But there was one unforeseen problem.
“I couldn’t get it down the stairs,” said Kirsten Weymar, founder and owner of the Lake Forest music school.
Eventually, Weymar did corral enough helpers to haul the barrel from the school, located on the second floor of a building in the Ralphs Shopping Center on Trabuco Road, and over to South County Outreach, about three miles away.
For future holidays, Weymar found a more practical way to help. Starting in October, she would put out a giant Coke bottle to collect donations. In all, she’d collect more than $300 from her students, and would match that contribution to give South County Outreach a total of more than $600.
That led to another revelation.
“I thought, ‘Why are we only doing this at Christmas?’ Weymar said. “It’s silly. People aren’t just hungry at Christmas. They’re hungry all year long.”
Enter Phoenix Feather’s newest member and South County Outreach’s newest hero, a piggy bank named Chunky that Weymar purchased in December at a craft store in Solvang.
In February, Phoenix Feather gave Chunky a prominent spot in the classroom and began collecting donations year round.
“I decided to give it a try, and, wow, the families really stepped up,” Weymar said.
The children donated pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters to the tune of $77.66, and Weymar matched their contributions, something she says she will continue to do every month, for an initial Chunky gift to South County Outreach of $156. The donation for March was $187.
“The most fun is sending in the money and designating it to feed kids. Children shouldn’t have to go hungry. There are so many of us who with a quarter here and a quarter there, we can feed everybody.”
It’s a lesson that the students have been quick to grasp.
Anya Thakar, 10, saves money in her own piggy bank at home to bring to class. “It goes to help feed children,” she says, smiling.
And Claire Carvalho, 10, has encouraged her entire family to save change to give to Chunky. “We save it in my mom’s wallet,” she says.
Weymar teaches 25 classes a week at Phoenix Feather, which she opened in 1987, with some students staying for the entire 5 ½ year program and then continuing on with private teachers. And for her, adding Chunky to the classroom is part of a lesson that goes far beyond music.
“That’s the point of starting Chunky, to help starving children of course,” she says. “But also to help the children see that you don’t have to be a millionaire, you don’t have to be super ultra-rich to help somebody. You can be anybody and help somebody.”
The music school’s family atmosphere has helped inspire a pay-it-forward spirit of generosity.
Weymar gives much of the credit to a tuition angel, who for several years, and continuing long after her own kids finished the music program, has been randomly selecting a family every month and paying their Phoenix Feather tuition.
“Several people who have received her generosity have said, ‘You know what, we really don’t need it.’ And they turn around and pay it for somebody else. This kind of heartfelt feeling, it makes everybody want to do more for somebody. It’s really beautiful.”
So while the clunky collection barrel is history, Chunky has a permanent home at Phoenix Feather, and South County Outreach has a new best friend.
“It is so impactful to know that these children want to make a difference,” said South County Outreach Executive Director Lara Fisher. “As a local charity, every penny does count. Each donation makes a difference to the families are able to help.”