Cookies, chocolate and wrapping paper aren’t just hallmarks of the holiday season, they’re also staples of school fundraising initiatives.
While the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is bringing more dark red, orange and green vegetables to students’ lunch trays, children are also raking in the green with foods more likely to be served at sleepovers than in schools.
“Candy is probably the biggest seller in fundraisers,” said Tim Ditch, a sales rep with The Chip Shoppe. “Candy and cookie dough and pie and pizzas, all that stuff sells really well.”
The Chip Shoppe is a company that provides food, magazines and gift wrap fundraising opportunities to organizations throughout the Midwest. Ditch has worked with schools in Cedar Rapids, Marion, Iowa City and throughout Iowa. Armed with catalogues full of culinary goodies, students sign up to sell Chip Shoppe goods and earn a percentage of the profit for their parent teacher groups, which then reinvest that money back into the schools.
In her five years as a member of the Amana Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, Amy Krotz has witnessed and participated in various revenue generating campaigns: wrapping paper, gifts and even candles.
“You can’t just sell candles every year. You can’t burn that many in a year,” she said. “You like to keep your fundraising options sort of fresh so that people don’t get burned out on what you’re trying to do.”
Krotz and the Amana organization joined up with The Chip Shoppe in an effort to get a reduced rate on inflatable structures that the company rents out for events. Last year, the school’s first with the company, Krotz estimated that the parent teacher collective brought in more than $6,000 through student sales. Food outsold gift items at about a 2-to-1 ratio, she recalled.
“I guess my thought on that always was, even when money’s a little tight, people know that they have to eat,” Krotz said. “It’s something that can nourish them and not a knickknack that will sit on the shelf and collect dust.”
This year Krotz bought six boxes of cookie dough, which she calls “cheater cookies.” The cookies range from 110 to 150 calories per cookie, but that doesn’t cause Krotz concern when it comes to her son.
“He chooses to remain active,” she said, noting that her fourth-grader regularly eats fruits and vegetables. “If he eats some stuff that’s not on the healthy list of things to eat every day, no, it doesn’t bother me.”
All buildings that participate in the National School Lunch Program are required to have a wellness policy. The Clear Creek Amana Community School District, of which Amana Elementary is part, has a policy that states the district’s support and promotion of “proper dietary habits contributing to students’ health status and academic performance.”
Brenda Parker is the principal at North Liberty’s North Bend Elementary, another Clear Creek Amana school. That building’s parent teacher group has done a number of food fundraisers, including sales of Butter Braid frozen pastry dough and Schwan’s frozen foods. Profits from World’s Finest Chocolate netted more thanr $8,000 for the school last spring. For North Bend and Amana, those dollars have provided iPads and SMART Boards as well as other classroom technology.
“The whole fundraising topic and the way it’s handled can be kind of a mixed message,” said Linda Snetselaar, a professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa.
Snetselaar, whose work focuses on preventive nutrition education, said approaches to food at home, in school and even at church should all be cohesive.
“If we can get all of those areas to think in terms of health and the way in which we can have an environment that’s very healthy is important,” she said. “If you only talk about one area, you could be missing important elements.”
Parker said she worries about conflicting ideas of telling children to eat well while having them sell sweets.
“That’s a conversation that we continue to have in the district, in our building, in the parent teacher group as well,” she said.
Earlier this year, the United States Department of Education awarded $297,552 to the district for a nutrition and physical education grant.
“We’re doing a lot of things to promote healthiness with our kids, with our families,” Parker said about the funds.
The principal, who works with the parent teacher group on fundraising initiatives, said she has not heard any negative feedback from parents about having students use candy to raise money. Parents do not have to participate in the fundraising campaigns to benefit their school.
For parents who don’t approve of the food fundraisers, Snetselaar encouraged them to be vocal.
“There’s a lot of options out there, not just one or two,” she said. “If they can really keep in mind that those options are out there and really try to include those in terms of fundraising.”
Barb Kounkel, one of the school’s parent teacher group co-presidents, actually opted to write a check to the organization instead of having her students do chocolate sales because the campaign was so close to Girl Scout Cookie selling season.
Fellow co-president Suz Schloss’ children do sell the chocolate, which she buys, but she likewise is not concerned about the treats spurring poor nutrition.
“At our home, it’s not that you get to sit and veg out and eat your chocolate bar,” she said. “You have to eat a healthy supper first … I didn’t have a discussion with them because they already know what a healthy plate is. They know that they have to have a fruit, vegetable, protein and a noncomplex carb.”