Lillian E. Collins, senior research specialist with Alumni House, was recently featured in an article in the Finger Lakes Times for her avocation as “the Coupon Queen.” Collins, who has been with the Colleges for more than 40 years, has what the article calls a “coupon ministry,” purchasing products for gift baskets for students, neighbors, friends and those in need.
The article quotes Collins, “Coupon clippers are often thought of as selfish fanatics solely interested in saving a few extra dollars for themselves. But I’ve proved them wrong. I use my smart shopping skills to help others who are less fortunate. What a wonderful feeling inside when you’ve added a little sunshine to someone’s otherwise gloomy day.”
The full article follows.
Finger Lakes Times
All hail the coupon queen …
Susan Clark Porter • December 27, 2010
GENEVA – For Lillian Collins the season of giving lasts all year long.
For almost 30 years, Collins – a.k.a. “the Coupon Queen” – has parlayed her knack for couponing into a ministry of sorts.
It all started in the early 1980s when Collins, who has worked at Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Alumni House since 1967, sent a student a care package filled with everyday items bought with coupons. Collins recalls the 1980s as the golden age of couponing, when stores would triple manufacturer’s coupons up to 99 cents.
“It was just fun – getting these items for almost nothing,” she said.
Collins decided to put her savings acumen to use knowing that college students often struggle to buy the little things, such as toiletries or laundry detergent. She is still in touch with that very first young woman who received a care package, a William Smith graduate who now lives in Rhode Island and whose daughter was just accepted into William Smith as an early-decision student.
Collins expanded her coupon ministry to anyone in need – be it someone experiencing a death in the family, a hospital stay or the loss of a job.
She said sometimes when people are ill, others send money, but she finds her goodie bags are more practical.
“If you don’t feel good and can’t go the store, check your bag and it might save you a trip,” she said.
Happy occasions also merit her special packages.
When she was invited to a wedding once, Collins said she put together a bag for the bride to save her a future shopping trip. She’s done baskets for Christmas, baby showers, graduations and students heading away to college.
She’s so well known as the Coupon Queen that when she leaves a stocked bag on a doorstep, she doesn’t have to include a card.
“I can send a basket and not even say anything,” she said.
Collins devotes a couple of hours each week to couponing, which she calls a ministry of “caring, giving and sharing.”
Bishop John S. Dixon, pastor of St. Paul’s Full Gospel Baptist Church in Geneva, said even he’s been on the receiving end of Collins’ coupon ministry – as she recently gave him some to the Red Lobster restaurant.
Dixon ticked off the recipients of Collins’ good deeds – especially students at the Colleges who might just be starting school or have a need. He noted a graduate who now works in Hollywood returned to campus for a presentation and during it recalled receiving a Collins-made basket.
“I don’t know anyone that she doesn’t help,” Dixon said. “She has an ability to reach out to those people who might find themselves in need a discreet way. It’s just uplifting.”
In a 2001 Colleges’ publication, Collins wrote about her passion.
“Coupon clippers are often thought of as selfish fanatics solely interested in saving a few extra dollars for themselves,” she wrote. “But I’ve proved them wrong. I use my smart shopping skills to help others who are less fortunate. What a wonderful feeling inside when you’ve added a little sunshine to someone’s otherwise gloomy day.”
The following Bible passages have resonated with Collins and to embody her hobby’s meaning.
Malachai 3:10 – “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
Luke 6:38 – Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Collins said she’s found that the Luke passage has been especially true in her life and “you can’t beat God’s giiving no matter how you try.”
“That’s what couponing has done for me … I have an overflow and the excess is given away,” she said.
Her reputation means that people, especially co-workers, are always sending coupons her way. The late Allan Kuusisto, former president at the Colleges, even mailed them to her. And at least one friend has returned the favor of a care package.
Collins recalled how when her mother died 20 years ago, a friend gave her a filled bag.
“I know you have everyone of these items, but I just wanted to bring it,” Collins recalled her saying.
Besides the reward of bringing others joy, Collins revels in the thrill of a bargain. She organizes her coupons by the expiration date’s month and scans advertising fliers for sales.
“If you wait for bargains the chances are you’ll double your savings – spending $20 but getting $40 worth of items,” she said.
If Collins has an overflow of coupons, or some nearing their expiration date, she’ll share those as well by leaving them in the grocery store by the particular item.
In addition to assembling care packages, she’ll also bring various food staples and household items to the Geneva Center of Concern in the name of St. Paul’s Full Gospel Baptist Church or in memory of her father Charlie Williams Sr., a faithful volunteer there.
Collins intends to retire this July after 44 years at the Colleges. She hopes to travel and volunteer as a driver for the American Cancer Society but will certainly keep on couponing. She’s even considering starting a life skills class on “the art of couponing.”
“If you can give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” Collins said. “Just imagine what a man could do with double couponing. After all, knowledge is the best charity.”