Wednesday, February 29, 2012

USAgain: Another fundraising option for schools

I've noticed these collection bins in my area lately. At first, I didn't pay too much attention, because I have already have a place to donate household items we no longer use.

But it turns out that the company that provides these bins pays money for the clothes that are collected in these bins. The company is called USAgain. They are a for-profit company that pays for gently-used items, and then sells them worldwide. They make money, the school, church or business that houses the bins make money, and the earth benefits because lots of crap is saved from the landfill. 

It all sounds good. I am always interested in ways to make money for our school that doesn't require someone to get stuck with a painful amount of work. And certainly, the USAgain format sounds easy. You call, they bring a bin, you ask families to bring their old clothes... that's it! 

Sigh... here's the thing: Even though it's easy, we already have too much going on. We already work with Terracyle, another green company. We collect hard-to-recycle items like Capri Sun juice pouches and send them in to Terracycle, who pays us 2 cents for each pouch. It's not a lot, but you'd be surprised how quickly the pouches pile up.

We already collect boxtops. We celebrate a panoply of things: All the regular holidays plus Lunar New Year, 100th Day of School, Read Across America Day. We sell chocolate bars. We have dances and book fairs and potlucks and teacher appreciation breakfasts and ahhh... you get the idea. 

So, even though this pretty bin seems soooo easy... I just have to take a pass. Parents' brains are cluttered with too many school-related things to do.

Oh, and as I've said and I will say again, I'm sure, I LOVE thrift stores! If everyone starts giving their clothes to this company, who ciphons them away to be sold worldwide, what is going to be left to search through in my favorite shop? Thankfully, in this age of excess, I'm sure there's enough stuff to go around to keep both the thriftstores and the USAgain bins filled to overflowing.

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's Worth Repeating: Boxtops Marketplace is an easy way to earn money

I don't have a lot of time to post today, so I'm just going to share my latest little bit of earning for our school's PTA, which I did through Boxtops Marketplace. It makes me happy and this is my blog, so here goes.

We're a family of vitamin takers. I often buy my vitamins through Amazon, because they've got the best prices. But this time around I checked, and found that they were offering the same exact price on my desired item. Free shipping too!

So, I stocked up and spent $50. contributes 5 Eboxtops, or 50 cents, per 10 dollars spent. So on my 50 dollar purchase, $2.50 is going back to our school. Yay. Thanks,! Here's a snapshot of my earnings page on the Boxtops Marketplace:

As you can see, my EBoxtops are pending. It takes 60 days to go from "pending" to "confirmed", because that allows time for items to be returned. It doesn't really matter, because General Mills only cuts checks twice a year anyway. The important thing is that the money makes its way to the school eventually. 

By the way, an enterprising PTA mom in Texas somewhere made a great video that explains the Boxtops Marketplace in detail. Here is is:

Saturday, February 25, 2012

PTA Dropouts in NYT

When I told a friend that I was starting a blog about PTA issues and the ever-increasing need for parental involvement in schools, she immediately pointed me towards Frazzled Parents Push Back Against Volunteering, published in the New York Times in December 2010.  I'd seen it, of course... while I no longer read the NYT from cover to cover, my parents still do. My mom thought of me immediately when she read it, and sent me the link.

The article profiles parents who burned out on school volunteering, and dropped out. Nothing too earth-shattering, but it does shine a light on the large number of parent-led activities that schools have on their calendars. I will cover that more in future posts.

PTA duties keep me pretty busy, but I don't feel burned out yet. And that's because a wise teacher at the school said to me "there are so many things that need to be done here. Choose the things you're interested in and stay away from the things that don't interest you." 

This year I organized the school's holiday performance. I chose music, helped 2nd-graders write a skit, and helped two classes of kindergartners make hats to wear on stage. I created the program and coordinated the evening's festivities. I recruited an incredibly talented musician-parent to accompany our kids' classes, and to emcee (thanks, honey!). It was a lot of work, and essentially took over my life for the weeks between Thanksgiving and mid-December. But you know what? I loved every minute of it. Kids + music = Joy. Plain and simple. As soon as we got home from this year's performance, I started thinking about what songs we'd do next year.

Thanks to my teacher friend, I have a pretty clear idea of what volunteer activities I don't like and therefore won't do:

1) I won't work at any evening event in our school's multipurpose room (except our holiday performance!). It's loud, and my kids are usually overtired and overstimulated and want to leave early. 

2) I won't volunteer to watch kids on the yard at recess. I just hate it and I won't do it.

3) I'm learning to say no to field trips and bringing in treats for parties. We already have enough chaperones and lord knows, the kids have way more than enough access to sweets.

I'm only two and a half years in. Check back with me in a few more years... I hope I'm still involved, but hopefully relieved of making 50 construction-paper holiday hats.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Boxtops Marketplace--Easiest fundraising I've found

If you have school-aged children, chances are you know about the Boxtops For Education program. Boxtops for Education are little coupons, worth 10 cents each, that you find on cereal boxes, yogurt containers, toilet paper wrapping and plastic-bag boxes. PTA volunteers collect them from families, bundle them, and mail them to the General Mills HQ in Minnesota. General Mills then cuts the school a check. Many schools do very well with this program--earning hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and good on General Mills for supporting schools all across the country.

I was the Boxtops Coordinator for our school for a year or so, and I was really terrible at it. I wasn't comfortable pushing contests on classrooms, and I didn't want our kids to be motivated to collect Boxtops by offering yet more sweets, or Made-in-China tchtotckes as prizes. Plus, my 40-something eyes could not handle having to look at the incredibly tiny expiration dates on all those tiny coupons.

Thankfully, another mom stepped up to the plate and I gleefully handed over the reigns to her.

Freed from the tediousness of collecting and bundling Boxtops, I was able to pay more attention to the Boxtops website, where I discovered the Boxtops4education Marketplace ( This is an online shopping portal, where you connect to a variety of online retailers that you might shop at anyway. When you start at the Boxtops Portal, a portion of your purchase gets kicked back to your school. It's really easy--no clipping, no bundling, no nothing.

Here's something you should know about me: I'm not much of a shopper. Well, except that I love thrift stores so much that I could easily start another blog just about thrifting.

But there are a few things that my family cannot do without. Number 1 on that list is plane tickets. We live on the west coast and my parents and siblings live on the east coast. That means that once a year, no matter how tight our budget, our family of four boards a plane headed east to spend quality time with the grandparents, aunts and uncles. And once a year, several family members head to California to visit us.

When was the last time you purchased a plane ticket any way but through the internet? Can't remember? Neither can I. We purchase our tickets through Expedia, Travelocity, or Hotwire. All of these companies participate in the Boxtops4Education Marketplace. All of these companies give school 10 cents per 10 dollars spent. Doesn't sound like a lot, but since most plane tickets cost several hundred dollars, it adds up quickly.

As I write this, my parents are jetting home after a wonderful visit. I helped them buy their tickets here. Their tickets (exclusive of taxes and fees) were just about 1000 bucks. So, they earned a quick $10 for their grandkids' school just by purchasing their tickets through

I will have much more to say about the BTFE Marketplace in subsequent posts. As a teacher at our school says, not using the portal when you need to make purchases online is "like leaving money on the table."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Welcome to Parents $aving Schools

My two children, ages 5 and 7, attend a California public school in a woefully underfunded school district. 

In my area, PTA funds seem to cover just about everything besides teachers salaries and the roof over kids' heads. Playground equipment, assemblies, basic supplies for classrooms, field trips, arts enrichment. Almost no classrooms have aides anymore, so parents taken over that position, volunteering regularly in the classroom. 

When my older child started kindergarten three years ago, I dove right in, both on the PTA and in the classroom.

Sometimes I think: Is this my kids' school, or is this my job? Are they going to school, or we going to school?

Nevertheless, we're mostly happy with the education our children are receiving; they've been blessed with wonderful teachers and the community of families is great. And so we slog on, raising as much money as we can and trying to make their experience better whenever possible.

This blog is going to be about anything and everything to do with schools. How to raise money, how to not burn out, what other schools and districts are doing to stay afloat at a moment when there seems to be no money to fund education. I know I have much to learn.