Avery Sanford, 18, is estranged from her father, but he had one more child support payment to make. So the bitter father dumped 80,000 pennies — $800 — on his former wife and daughter’s front yard. Then, the defiant act of revenge had an unexpected outcome.

Avery, who just graduated from a Richmond, Virginia high school, decided to pay the money forward by donating it to a service organization for survivors of domestic violence. When word of the story got out, the organization — Safe Harbor Shelter — started getting flooded with donations.

Home-security footage showed a man in an SUV pull up to Avery Sanford’s house. There was a trailer attached to the vehicle. The man operated the trailer so that it dumped the 80,000 pennies on the front lawn and sidewalk of the home before driving away, the video showed.

“I just turned 18. When I was in the middle of class, my dad came by. He had rented a trailer,” said Sanford, a graduate of Deep Run High School who is about to start classes at Virginia Tech. “He pulled up in front of the house and turned the trailer on so it dumped out all the pennies on the grass and my mom came out and was like, ‘What are you dumping in my yard?’ She didn’t know who it was until he shouted, ‘It’s your final child support payment.”

Avery Sanford, her mother and several friends picked up the thousands of pennies and wondered what they should do next. The answer came quickly.

They donated the money to Safe Harbor Shelter, a Richmond victim-services organization founded in 1998. The group has seen its access to federal funding dramatically cut in recent years, so Safe Harbor was grateful for the gift.

But the organization did not expect what happened next: a flood of donations spurred by the family’s action. Mary Maupai, the development director at Safe Harbor, noted that gifts citing Sanford’s donation as a catalyst for donations ranging between $25 and $1,000.

Avery Sanford’s Father Paid His Last Child Support in Pennies on her Front Lawn.
The 18-year-old then went ahead and made something wonderful out of a horrible act by her dad.
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

“They were able to turn such a negative experience, and what her daughter witnessed, into a positive,” Cathy Easter, said executive director of Safe Harbor. “They found a way to turn this around and not feel devastated about it. The fact that these gifts are coming in at this time is just like a godsend. I’m very sorry the family experienced this, but so grateful they reached out and chose to do this and share their story.”

Avery said that the penny incident proved to her that she made the right decision to stay clear of the family dispute. She said she had no interest in having a relationship with anyone who disrespected her mother.

“It’s really hurtful and damaging to your kids when you do things like that. It doesn’t matter if they’re young or an adult, the actions of your parents will always have some effect on you,” she said.

When reached by phone by WTVR-TV in Richmond, Avery’s father said his actions were the result of 18 years of built-up frustration and his emotions got the best of him. He said the last thing he wanted to do was to put a further wedge between him and his daughter.