Santa Barbara’s alternative giving campaign wants you to put that jingling change in your pocket to good use.

Instead of handing those nickels and dimes to people on the street, the campaign’s partners are urging the public to donate them using countertop change receptacles at downtown businesses, with the money going toward street outreach, food for the hungry, shelter and medical care.

The small, clear plastic boxes with “Real Change, Not Spare Change” placards will be in many local businesses. Street-side donation boxes may be added during the second phase of the campaign.

“We’re not doing this because it’s easy, but because it’s necessary,” Mayor Helene Schneider said at Tuesday’s launch.

Having a program target the issues of panhandlers has been supported by a diverse group of stakeholders, especially those in the downtown area, from businesses and nonprofits to city government.

“We’re hearing that people don’t want to go downtown anymore,” said David Damiano, director of the Downtown Organization.

The Alternate Giving and Panhandling Education Campaign is a partnership of the Downtown Organization, the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau, the Casa Esperanza Homeless Center, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice and the city’s Redevelopment Agency.

Mike Foley, executive director of Casa Esperanza, estimated that $600,000 a year is handed to panhandlers, and 80 percent of those who accept money use part of it for alcohol or drugs. For every bit of money that helps, some end up being the gift of assisted suicide, he said Tuesday.

Countertop donation boxes are just part of the city’s year-old, 12-point plan to address homelessness issues in the community, which includes an ordinance against aggressive panhandling.

“Compassionate action is neither exceptional nor optional,” CLUE homelessness subcommittee member Jon Lemmond said.

Click here to go to the campaign’s Web site for more information, and keep an eye out for donation boxes in the downtown area.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at