A decade ago, helping fund school extracurriculars could be as simple as snipping a label from a soup can.
But in recent years, even those options have begun to dwindle, leaving schools wondering where funding for extra activities will come from in an increasingly tight budget.
Last year, Campbell Soup Co. announced that after 42 years of raising extra funds for schools, it will be ending its Soup Labels for Education program.
Schools received a point per label that people could cut from participating Campbell’s products and turn into the school. Then, schools picked items to purchase from the Labels for Education merchandise catalog, which includes items from art supplies and gym equipment to iPads and minivans.
The last day for schools to turn in labels was January 2.
“During the past year, we’ve been assessing the impact of these programs and through this, we’ve seen that participation in Labels for Education has declined considerably. Sadly, it is at the point where we have no choice but to make the very difficult decision to wind down the program,” Campbell’s said on its Labels for Education website.
A Campbell’s representative could not be reached for direct comment.
The Labels for Education website lists dozens of Eastern-area preschools, daycare centers, elementaries and middle schools that participate in the program.
Jennifer Douglas, principal at Voris Elementary in Akron, Ohio, said the school’s PTA has collected labels since 2001. The average yearly amount they’ve collected has varied, but it often amounts to at least a few hundred dollars per year.
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It’s not a large amount, but it is enough to purchase non-instructional items that kids use regularly, like balls, jump ropes and sidewalk chalk for recess.
“These are items we don’t really have much of a budget for,” Voris said. “The program has been a way to help offset some of those costs.”
Campbell’s cited declining consumer participation as its reason for ending the program.
Other programs like it have seen a similar fate in recent years. My Coke Rewards, which gave people redeemable points for items for both themselves and their schools, discontinued in July of 2017 after less than ten years of operation.
Programs of the sort face several challenges. One is backlash from opponents who say the programs are simply a ploy to market unhealthy and processed foods to children. Another is slowed growth of the packaged food market as consumers have started opting for healthier and organic alternatives.
Individual brands also contribute to the costs of some of the programs, putting their participation on the line if product sales are down.
But other programs have remained afloat or been rejuvenated by incorporating technology and swapping points for actual dollars.
Coca Cola replaced My Coke Rewards with the Coca Cola Gives program, which allows people to donate to the school or charity of their choice. Consumers simply need to buy a Coke product, scan the code on it with a mobile device and choose where to direct the funds. Instead of points, schools earn dollars to spend any way they want.
And General Mills’ Box Tops for Education, a program that has raised more than $868 million in its 21 years of existence, recently introduced a feature on its website called Clip Board, where schools can form collection drives for items they want and people can pledge a certain number of Box Tops toward the drive.
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The company also developed a mobile app last year called the Box Tops Bonus App, which not only provides an easier alternative to cutting and sending the labels away in baggies with kids, but also helps find products with Box Tops and track earnings.
Lilly Moeding, the assistant manager for Box Tops for Education, said the program has “the highest awareness and participation of any school fundraising program,” with more than 70,000 schools participating across the country.
Still, even Box Tops is seeing participation issues. Moeding said the number of schools involved has remained stagnant in the last five years, and big labels like Betty Crocker have recently reduced the number of products that participate.
Still, every little bit counts. And at a time when state funding is growing at a slower rate and schools are increasingly looking to property tax levies to fund operations, school leaders are searching for extra pennies anywhere they can.