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Money in a new shape aims to make a change, breaks records

Marcelo Bezos has taken the phrase “penny pincher” to new heights. Literally.

For the past two years Bezos, a University of Miami facilities administrator for the Miller School of Medicine, has spent more than 1,000 hours constructing a penny pyramid that is now three feet high and weighs more than a ton.

Bezos started collecting pennies in 1971, when he was still a child. The idea for a penny pyramid came 10 years later when he saw one in the Guinness Book of World Records.

“At the time, the record was 71,000 pennies, so that was originally my goal,” Bezos said. “Then a new record came out with 104,000 pennies in the pyramid, so my goal changed.”

By 2006, Bezos’ collection numbered 250,000 pennies, weighing 1,500 pounds. He kept them in five gallon jugs that his parents brought from their New Jersey home when Bezos started his project.

“My parents had always known that I wanted to do this, but I kept it from my immediate family because I wanted it to be a surprise.”

Bezos eventually exhausted his penny collection and now relies on donations from family and friends and penny rolls from the bank, which his children help him break open.

Although Bezos wanted to break the world record, he also had a more important goal in mind.

“My brother-in-law’s father passed away from colorectal cancer in 2005,” Bezos said.

“I wanted to do something out of the ordinary to raise awareness for the screening process. It’s one of the few cancers you can ward off if you catch it early enough.”

While Bezos’ pyramid now consists of more than 400,000 pennies, four times the number needed to break the record, he did not have enough outside witness observing the building of the pyramid to legitimize his claim to Guinness.

However, he did grab the attention of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” and now has a spot in their newest book.

Bezos wants to continue building his pyramid to one million pennies, but in the meantime, his focus is on the charitable aspect of his project.

In conjunction with Ayuda, an organization that aims to help children gain an education, Bezos is taking his project into the educational community.

The plan, which will take effect in the next couple weeks at eight after-school centers, is to have children collect pennies to construct their own mini-pyramids using wood models created by Bezos.

“Building the pyramids will not only be a project all the kids can work on together, but it also ties in other lesson plans oriented along those lines, such as math, history and architecture.”

After the pyramids are finished, the children get to choose what charity their fundraising will go to, “which is a whole lesson plan in itself,” Bezos said.

Bezos’ own pyramid is worth around $8,000 when melted down because of the old pennies that used copper instead of zinc.

But Bezos has no plans to deconstruct his pyramid any time soon.

“After I grow this thing to one million, I’d like to find a final resting place for it, maybe in a museum or a hospital.”

Bezos is still looking for donations to help his pyramid grow. To learn more, visit pennypyramidproject.com or e-mail Bezos at mbezos@pennypyramid.com.

Veronica Sepe may be contacted at v.sepe@umiami.edu.

September 10, 2007

Reporters

The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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