Small acts earn cash for schools
The kitchen counter in Michelle Morales' house is home to a bowl full of donations for St. Lawrence School in Greece.
There's no cash in the container, however, but rather a big stack of Box Tops for Education.
Most Box Tops are worth 10 cents apiece, so the Box Tops are as good as cash for the school, which has earned more than $4,000 through the program in the last six years.
"They really add up," Principal Susan Sak said of the Box Tops.
General Mills' Box Tops program is popular among diocesan Catholic schools, as at least 11 use the program to bring in extra funds. St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva, for example, recently received a check for $1,586 through the Box Tops for Education program. The program is one of several so-called "passive fundraisers," which allow parents and community members to contribute to schools financially without changing their buying habits or spending additional money.
"Not all families can always give monetarily, so it's a nice way to feel like you're still contributing to the health of your school," said Morales, who has two children enrolled at St. Lawrence.
Box Tops are found on the packaging of more than 200 products from a wide variety of brands, including General Mills, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Nestle and Yoplait. Other brands have joined the program in recent years, and Box Tops now may be found on nonfood items as well, including several products from Ziploc, Hefty, Brita and Hanes. Occasionally some products, especially those from such warehouse stores as Sam's Club, will have Bonus Box Tops that are worth more than 10 cents apiece, Morales said.
Parents or community members cut the Box Tops out of the packaging and give them to the schools, which in turn mail in their Box Tops collections to a processing center in exchange for biannual checks.
"There are a gazillion things with the Box Tops on them. In my pantry right now I have at least five items with Box Tops that I know of. I am very conscious of it when I'm grocery shopping," Morales said, noting that her family checks for Box Tops before recycling discarded packaging.
"When we're getting rid of the recycling we just clip them off and throw them in the bowl," she said.
About every three weeks or so Morales sends the stack to school with her kids. Sak said quite a few parents, St. Lawrence parishioners and members of the Greece community clip Box Tops for the school, and one woman mails Box Tops to the school from her home in Florida. St. Lawrence uses the funds it receives to maintain a large saltwater fish tank in the school's entrance hall.
St. Lawrence is one of several area schools that also participates in Campbell's Labels for Education. This program is similar to Box Tops for Education in that people clip things from product labels in order to help schools earn rewards. Schools collect the UPC codes found on the labels on Campbell's soups, Post cereals and products made by Pepperidge Farms, Prego, Swanson and a number of other brands. Each UPC code has a designated point value, and schools can trade these points for items in a Labels for Education rewards catalog, Sak said.
"We've gotten different gym equipment or something to enhance a classroom," she added.
St. Lawrence also is enrolled in Target's Take Charge of Education program. This means people who have Target REDcard credit or debit cards can go to the Take Charge of Education website and designate St. Lawrence to receive 1 percent of the amount they spend at Target with their REDcards. Registered schools also will receive .5 percent of the amount participating individuals charge on their REDcards outside of Target stores. Target mails checks to participating schools once a year.
"It's awesome. All of the sudden you get a check for $400 or $500," Sak said. "We buy supplies, games and activities for the children to use in our afterschool program. We've also bought series of grade-level books for classrooms."
Schools can't really budget for these funds, but the extra funds still come in very handy, said Gina Schultz, office assistant at St. Pius Tenth School in Chili. St. Pius participates in the Target program as well as Tops Friendly Markets' Tops in Education program. Through this program, shoppers register their BonusPlus cards online and select participating schools, which then receive a percentage of the amount those shoppers spend on specific items in the store.
St. Pius Tenth usually receives between $300 and $500 a year from the Target and Tops programs combined, Schultz said.
"The profits they bring in help support our field trips and assemblies," she noted.