When the American Red Cross enabled people to make $10 donations via text message to help victims of the earthquake that rocked Haiti in January 2010, the organization did more than collect much-needed financial assistance.
It planted a seed for University of Arizona associate professor of music Betsy Schauer, who was awestruck with how easy it was for masses of people to make a big difference through small contributions.
"It was small enough that it didn't hurt, and also it was really easy," she said.
The concept germinated in her head for the better part of a year before it sprouted into a similar movement, The $5 Project, which launched on Facebook in mid-May.
The $5 Project is a Facebook page that promotes a different charity each month, driving Facebook users who "like" The $5 Project toward the chosen charity's website to donate, well, $5.
The first charity was Alamosa, Colo.-based PALS children's program, a licensed after-school and summer program for children in an impoverished part of Colorado. PALS stands for Positive Activities Lead to Success.
Donations from The $5 Project provided PALS with enough money to cover the cost of an educational day trip for all children currently in the program and to buy school supplies for 16 elementary school students.
Back in January, Schauer began contacting Facebook friends to form a core group that could help her with planning and execution.
She ended up with a circle of 13 people from all around the country and from throughout her life - five of them, including herself, are from Tucson - with diverse interests and religious and political ideologies.
The idea was to champion local and regional causes across the United States that normally don't get the exposure that larger charities such as the Red Cross get, Schauer said.
The group came up with a rotation and has its charities planned out for the next several months. A new charity is revealed on the 14th of each month on The $5 Project's Facebook page.
Though no Tucson charities have been announced yet, "Arizona will certainly be represented in the first rotation of charities," Schauer said.
On Thursday, the group announced that its next recipient is Mount Holly, N.J.'s Beyond Balance, a therapeutic riding center for people with special needs. The $5 Project will direct people to Beyond Balance's website to make $5 donations until Aug. 14.
Beyond Balance was the suggestion of project board member Dána Dwyer, who attended college with Schauer and who has two autistic children, one of whom has already benefited from the organization's services.
Her son no longer needs physical therapy because of the coordination and physical awareness he learned on the horses at Beyond Balance, Dwyer said.
"The thought of another child that was like my kid not having that kind of experience just because of something like money just seemed ridiculous," she said.
When Schauer contacted her about helping with The $5 Project, Dwyer thought it was a great idea, "and the thought of what it could become was even more incredible."
If the original 13 board members each got just 10 of their Facebook friends to join the effort, and in turn they each had just 10 friends begin helping, the result could be "really, really amazing," she said.
The help for the group's second charity, Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, came at just the right time, said Omari Taylor, food bank marketing manager.
The food bank is in the midst of a "Hunger-Free Summer" initiative that includes matching donations from Charter One bank.
Normally, Gleaners can provide 15 meals for every $5 donated, but because of the added purchasing power afforded by the match, the food bank can provide 40 meals instead, Taylor said.
Schauer said the charities The $5 Project supports are small enough that an influx of several hundred dollars can really help.
"It might not be a lot, but as long as it doesn't cost them very much to adjust their website (for donations through The $5 Project), then it comes out fine," she said.
Contact reporter Shelley Shelton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-8464.