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Spreading the wealth

It started as a simple promotion for a small credit union. The plan: Hand out crisp $100 bills to random strangers.

Cold, hard cash. Who in Michigan couldn't use a little of that right now?

The idea -- created by Co-op Services Credit Union in Livonia -- was to hand out $100 to 100 people in 100 days. There were no requirements and no strings attached. Each recipient was asked one thing: Do something to back in any way they can, to make the community a better place.

Over the past three months, Project 100 has become a lot more than promotion. It is a sign of just how generous Michigan residents are –despite everything this state is going through.

Go ahead. Start the ugly rants now: Why is this news? Who cares? It's just a shameless plug for a financial institution. The Detroit blog should be writing about more important issues.

Here's what matters: People who really needed that money turned around and gave it to someone else.

Diane W. of Livonia spent her money on coffee. Not Starbucks. Ground coffee. She donated to the community center outreach program for the homeless at St. Aloysius in Detroit.

Shemetria S. of Detroit bought 26 pounds of canned goods for Gleaners Community Food Bank.

Melanie R. of Southgate gave it to her sister, who is going through a hard time.

Fred Haas of Wyandotte had lost his job at U.S. Steel when he got his $100. He used the money to buy his daughter some shoes.

Project 100 gained traction because it was the ideal mix of spontaneity and generosity, said Project Coordinator Greg Wohler.

“At the time we started, everything in Michigan felt very negative. We wanted to move the bar,” Wohler said. “The beginning of any change is a move to the positive.”

Everyone who received the money got a pile of business cars with the Project's web site on it. There, you can find the names of area charities looking for donations, volunteer opportunities and saving tips. The Facebook page has links to coupon sites, money-saving ideas and more. One “fan” wrote, “It's like a grass-roots stimulus package!”

So what's next? The credit union is now encouraging those who receive $100 for opening a new account to donate a portion to charity. Credit union members can vote online for one of eight area charities to see which will receive the total donations.

As far as Project 100 goes, the final Ben Franklin will be awarded this week. We'll see what happens to it.

“Giving someone $100 probably isn't going to solve all their problems or change their life. But we could create an environment where our $100 could turn into much more,” Wohler said.

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