The 2009 San Marcos Penny Drive is in full force as the high school’s leadership class participates in its 14th annual service learning project.

San Marcos leadership students organize the penny drive at local schools, collecting change, bills and checks — with all of the money donated to Santa Barbara’s Unity Shoppe.

The Unity Shoppe is the county’s largest nonprofit group and helps families in need with food, clothes and other supplies. Although the Unity Shoppe helps families in need throughout the year, there is always a greater need during the holiday season.

The San Marcos Penny Drive started out at the high school as a penny-only collection 14 years ago. It has grown over the years to include not only all coins, bills and checks, but also 10 other schools.

This year, other local schools participating are La Colina Junior High, Santa Barbara Junior High, Monte Vista Elementary, Hope Elementary, Vieja Valley Elementary, Hollister Elementary, Monroe Elementary, McKinley Elementary, Cleveland Elementary and the Santa Barbara Community Academy.

Students involved in the drive will make a donation pledge of $10,000 to the Unity Shoppe this Saturday during the nonprofit’s annual telethon. The drive has pledged that amount each of the past five years, although the total donation has exceeded that each of those years. Last year, more than $12,000 — the equivalent of more than 5 tons of change — was collected and donated.

— Aaron Solis is the activities director at San Marcos High School.