Amy Cole saw the value a box top off a empty cereal box can provide students and teachers at Westfield Community School in Algonquin when others had long overlooked it.
The school finished last school year with only $97 raised from General Mills’ Box Tops for Education program, which rewards schools across the country with 10 cents for every box top collected.
Cole, a member of the school’s PTA, saw an opportunity with the program to engage students and provide a financial boost to the school.
She joined forces with fellow PTA member Kati DeMuth, and together they devised a friendly, Olympic-style competition among classrooms that has resulted into hundreds of box tops being collected at the school each month.
“It’s only 10 cents apiece, so people think, ‘Why bother?’ ” Cole said. “But if you can get a couple hundred a month from a couple of classrooms, it adds up. It’s a no-brainer really.”
The revitalized program so far has raised $7,000 that goes back to the Westfield PTA, which then uses the money to pay for school supplies, field trips and classroom accessories at the request of teachers.
The box top proceeds might seem small in comparison with the Carpentersville-based District 300 school’s budget, but it often can bring added value to schools increasingly constrained by budget cuts and a sluggish economy, Cole said.
Since 1996, Box Tops for Education has generated $525 million for schools across the country. Started by General Mills, the program now involves 240 brands and rewards schools for simply collecting box top labels.
The program relies on the dedication of local school coordinators, such as Cole and DeMuth, to motivate students to cut out box tops both at school and at home.
Local PTA organizations often use the Box Top program and others, such as Tyson Chicken’s “Project A+”, Prairie Farms’ “Cash for Caps,” and Target’s “Take Charge of Education,” to raise money for schools.
“People are having a hard time financially right now, and it’s hard to ask for money,” Cole said. “All we are doing is asking them to cut the box tops and send it to school.”
Westfield’s newfound success with the Box Top program ranks the school No. 1 in money raised within the McHenry County area.
Every month, Cole and DeMuth reward the elementary classroom that collected the most box tops with a trophy and Olympic-styled medals. At Westfield’s middle school grades, students who turn in box tops are awarded at random each month with gift cards from iTunes, Jamba Juice and local businesses.
The competitive approach mirrors the box top competition at Huntley District 158’s Leggee Elementary, which currently ranks second in the region. Other top-ranked area schools include District 158’s Chesak Elementary and Crystal Lake District 47’s Woods Creek Elementary.
Leggee coordinator Anitra Willis manages a Huntley box top program that has raised an average of $6,000 for the past three years.
The school is approaching that benchmark again this year, following months of competition. The top-performing class at Leggee receives a trophy each month, and the elementary students receive a certificate and coupons to local businesses.
Willis has even started mentoring neighboring coordinators, including Cole, on the value of running a successful box top collection.
“This is what I’m known for,” Willis said. “I can’t throw away a box top. It’s like throwing away a dime in the recycling bin.”