PTAs losing appetite for candy bar sales

Carroll schools, like many nationwide, adopt less conventional ways to raise money

January 02, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

The PTA survey sent to Hampstead's Spring Garden Elementary School parents put the ball in their court.

What did they prefer for a fundraiser: Selling something? Doing an activity? Or flat-out donating money?

The majority of those who responded, said Rhayne Evans, the school's PTA president, favored an activity.

And so the school's multicultural extravaganza, called "Around the World in 5 Days," was born last fall. Armed with monetary pledges for their journey, students spent a week learning about world cultures and mastering the art of eating Cheerios with chopsticks.

Spring Garden's decision to venture from the more traditional sales fundraiser has spread to other schools in Carroll County and beyond. Parent-teacher associations and organizations have increasingly sought new ways to raise funds for teachers and school activities - ways that don't involve moms or dads wearily toting yet another catalog to work.

"Nationally, we are seeing more unconventional fundraisers," said James Martinez, spokesman for the National Parent Teacher Association. "More and more, especially as PTAs are trying to break away from that bake-sale stigma, we are encouraging PTAs to come up with different types of fundraisers."

A couple of years ago, Martinez added, the organization started putting out an annual publication on fundraising that highlighted examples of "innovative and creative" events and activities.

Call it "benching the bake sale" or simply trying something new, but "today's PTA isn't what it was 50 years ago," Martinez said. Fathers, grandparents and uncles have joined the ranks once primarily reserved for mothers, he said. Family structures and health education have also changed, he added.

A more basic factor sometimes motivates PTA and PTO leaders as well.

"Parents are tired. ... There are parents out there who say they've had enough, and they just don't do any more," said Anita Owens, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs. "There's only so much wrapping paper and candy you can sell."

As nutrition and safety also have become concerns, classics such as candy-bar and door-to-door sales are used less often, organizers said.

And so, Owens said, a few Anne Arundel parent-teacher associations have sought alternatives, one even telling parents that if they contributed enough money, the school wouldn't do fundraisers.

The council also encourages local groups to do healthy fundraising, such as walk-a-thons and bike-a-thons, she said.

That kind of activity has taken off at Westminster Elementary School in Carroll County, which has done away with gift wrap and candy entirely, PTO president Dee Anne Weber said. For the past eight years, the school has conducted a "fun run," where students jog, run and dance through a course set up for the occasion, Weber said.

"It's easy because we don't harass the parents for anything else," Weber said, adding that the run brings in $15,000 to $20,000 annually. Parents from other Carroll elementary schools even came to check out the event this fall, she said.

For West Middle School's PTO co-president Gina Wolfson, necessity was the mother of invention this year. Wolfson and her co-leader added a couple of smaller, year-round sources of funding to make up for a late start in their posts.

The PTO has registered with GoodSearch, a search engine that donates a portion of its revenue to user-specified charities and schools. Officers have also turned to Phoneraiser, which allows them to collect used phones in exchange for money.

"It's too easy not to do it," Wolfson said. "It's one or two thousand dollars we've done nothing to get."

But some parents also said that sales usually bring in the most money, thus making it difficult to completely drop them when thousands of dollars are needed each year.

"We would love to find some other ways to raise money," said Melissa Moshang, PTO president for Friendship Valley Elementary School in Westminster. "Our operating budget is about $50,000 or more a year, and a car wash just isn't going to generate the income you need. We would need to wash cars every week."

Whatever parent groups resort to, Owens said, they need to remember that fundraising is "not what we're all about."

"It has to be tempered with `What are you doing for the parents; what are you doing for the kids?'" Owens said. "I would like to see different ways to fundraise, and then kind of remember that's not all we're supposed to be doing."

For Spring Garden, "Around the World in 5 Days" proved a success, Evans said. They netted about $9,000, she said.

And they plan to conduct another activity next year.

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