Equal dollars: a community currency

July 16, 2013

Mangie Daniel lost her job last September but is earning a different kind of currency by volunteering at a market.

The bills she receives bear the faces of Gray Panthers founder Maggie Kuhn and Alain LeRoy Locke, the Philadelphian best known as the father of the Harlem Renaissance.

It's a community currency started by the nonprofit organization Resources for Human Development, or RHD.

"The great thing about equal dollars is you have to do something for someone else to get them," said Equal Dollars Director Deneene Brockington. "So you have to do community service."

You can get creative with the kind of service you do.

"We're in the Strawberry Mansion community," said Deneene, "and there are people doing errands for the elderly, mentoring young people, helping clean the streets."

Volunteer for one to four hours and you get 25 equal dollars.

Bob Fishman, the CEO of RHD, says 2 and a half million equal dollars are currently circulating.

"Food and other things are donated to us as a non-profit and we, in turn, re-distribute those unused goods," he said.

Mangie uses her Equal Dollars to buy her 11-year-old son fresh food at the Equal Dollars Food Market.

Four loaves of bread cost her two equal dollars, a dozen free range eggs are three equal dollars. And a bunch of freshly picked scallions is one equal dollar.

"It's a lot of things I'm introducing to him now that we would never have bought unless I was here," said Mangie.

And a growing number of businesses are accepting the community currency.

"They can use equal dollars toward some of our consignment pieces," said Jennifer Waszak of Little Shop of Dresses. "And we have a huge selection and they can also use them toward fashion accessories and jewelry."

"You can pay 30% for your salad with equal dollars," said Nicole Marcote of Quince Fine Foods.

And now Fishman wants the city of Philadelphia's help. He's calling for a public hearing to educate and expand the use of this innovative economic tool.

Fishman, by the way, gets part of his salary in equal dollars..

"We have pegged it to the U.S. dollar at 80 cents on the dollar," he said. "So I pay taxes on the equivalent of 80 cents on the dollar value."

Meantime, the approximately 300 individuals and 150 businesses that already use equal dollars say the community currency is already making a big difference.



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