SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Mom’s Role in PTO Rummage Sale Changes Rank

Let me set the scene: TIME: Last spring, at the end of the school year. LOCATION: The library at my kid’s school, Roosevelt Elementary. SETTING: The last PTO meeting of the year.

I was tempted to pretend to be sick. I’d spent the previous year acting as vice president of the whole “she”-bang! It was hard work but my youngest child was in school full time and I gave it my all. And anyone who volunteers in their kid’s school knows how rewarding it is.

We raised money for new playground and PE equipment. We planted 4 new trees on the school lawn. We supported teachers and staff during teacher appreciation week and created a new community movie night for the whole “school family.”

And we were exhausted.

I was doing the whining, but my PTO president was finishing up her THIRD year, the first two without a vice president! Bless her.

Still, I showed up to that end of year meeting with a plan. Because, you know, vice presidents often become… (gulp) presidents! And I knew I couldn’t do that. I was working more and more from home and, as a family, we had decided to bring a foster child into our home (back to the world of pre-school, people!). And with my oldest child going into high school, I worried about what sort of new and scary time commitments that would bring. (Drama Club, anyone?)

I knew it was my year to be the soldier. Not the general. A change in rank.

It was a hard-fought battle, and I had to stand my ground.

But in the end, I caved… a little. I didn’t agree to run the whole organization. Instead, I agreed to serve as chairperson for the largest fundraiser of the year: the [dreaded] school rummage sale!

At that time, the sale was a whole year away and I figured I had plenty of time to plan for it. I mean, it’s a massive undertaking and a lot of work, but it’s all over in about 2 weeks.

Fast forward to last weekend…and the big day. Thanks to several moms, friends, and a few dads, it went very well. I’m still massaging my feet from being on them all that day, but a $1,600 check for the PTO is worth a couple of tired dogs.

But, what am I going to say at this year’s final PTO meeting? Can I run the school rummage sale again? (Only if I have a co-chairperson.) Do I have any more time this year to do even more volunteering than I did last year? (No.)

I’m afraid it’s another year of being the soldier. Happily doing what I’m told and jumping in where needed. Maybe I’ll get moved up to the rank of sergeant?

Hey! That has a nice ring to it—“Sergeant of the Rummage Sale”!

Anyway, I thought I’d compile 6 Lessons I Learned From Running the School Rummage Sale:

1. Start early. No matter what date you choose, many people will be busy on the same day, so get your team in place early. I used VolunteerSpot.com to create free online sign-up sheets for each task.

2. Send out fliers and use social media early and often. We had (have) a group Facebook page for the rummage sale. Between that and the fliers, we reminded families to bring in their items for the sale and encouraged folks to volunteer to help with the work.

3. Have yummy treats to sell during the day. We asked someone to serve as chairperson of a bake sale with donated baked items. The funny thing” Visitors to a rummage sale will haggle over prices of used goods, but then happily pay whatever you ask for a doughnut or a cold soda!

4. Make sure you hire a charity or second-hand store to help you remove the leftover items at the end of the day. Be sure to call and remind them the day before the event. Our charity forgot and we were stuck “storing” everything all weekend.

5. Pricing items isn’t nearly as important as sorting the goods. Remember, everything is negotiable in the end, anyway!

6. My top tip: Make sure you have an extra-friendly person on site running the sale early in the morning when people first arrive, who’ll gently remind visitors that “this is a fundraiser for the school.” The best phrase I learned to say was as follows: “Your items come to cost $8; will you round that up to $10 for the school?” I was amazed at how many said “Sure!

My husband worries that this sort of fundraiser isn’t sustainable, that our “school family” won’t be able to fill a whole gymnasium with, um, “stuff” year after year. Well, this is the 4th school rummage sale I’ve been part of in this particular school and I swear donations of “stuff” appear like magic every year! Huge thanks to the Roosevelt “school family.” I’m grateful to be part of this team.

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Fighting School Budget Cuts With Creativity

Megan Fox, American Idol, texting donations. Wow, school parent groups certainly are finding original ways to combat extreme budget cuts! With the level of cuts we are seeing recently, the standard school fundraisers aren’t enough. Have to hand it to these school communities — instead of just bemoaning the cuts, they are banding together to make things happen. With creativity and flair to boot. Check out these programs:

We wish these school communities and parent groups the best of luck. How is your school fighting budget cuts? Would love to hear about your programs.

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Bake Sale Ban _ California _ Bunk

Hope that headline is clear enough, but - man-oh-man! -- I really can't stand it when regulators go crazy and good intentions go way, way too far. That's what's happening in California, where new, increasingly egregiousfood regulations are being phased in. The end result? Basically the end of bake sales. And the end ofa whole host of additional perfectly fine traditions and habits at schools.

One of these schools has no more dessert at lunch. That nice office secretary who'd always have a peppermint for you when school was feeling particularly difficult in some way? That peppermint is gone, too. (Thank God for the peppermint police!)The kids can't have a hot dog sale that they used to have to fund a trip. Well, I suppose they could, if the hot dog was vegan.

(Note: before my vegan friends get up in arms. I have no problem with your vegan hot dogs. I've had a couple. But regular ol' hot dogs are not causing obesity.)

What about parents making choices for their kids? A slice of pizza for lunch isn't child abuse. A bake sale isn't criminal. And -- heck -- my buying a box of hi-fat cookies from the Sally Foster catalog is none of your darn business. It's as if we're equating Christmas cookies with guns and ammo.

I'll stop. But I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Same thing happening at your school? As parents, how can we step in and bring sanity back?
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In Praise of BoxTops and Friends

(Cross post from my PTO Today Blog.)

I hope we don't start taking programs like BoxTops for Education (General Mills) and Labels for Education (Campbell's) and Take Charge of Education (Target) for granted. This article in the Boston Globe today about how much BoxTops is giving each year just in Massachusetts reminded me to take a minute to offer a simple... thanks.

Yes, these are marketing programs. No doubt. And there are critics who think that any marketing that touches schools in any way is somehow taking advantage of kids. To me, that's hogwash.

These companies have about 9,000 options of where to spend their marketing dollars and where to focus their community support, and they choose to support schools. Good for them. They could run 10 more ads on American Idol or buy a Super Bowl ad for a million or two. Instead, they put those dollars towards schools. I certainly hope they get more for their marketing dollars by doing this (I bet they do!), but I can guarantee you that a lot more good  like field trips and playgrounds and teacher support and new computers and yadda, yadda) has been done through these collecting and school support programs than ever has been done with a Super Bowl ad.

I know clipping that BoxTop or saving that label or pulling out the "right" card can become rote, but it's worth every now and then remembering why we're doing that and why it's still worth it. And maybe even thanking those guys every now and then. (If you don't have a blog, I'm sure your support at the store will suit them just fine. :-) )
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Back to School, Back to Fundraising

It's a fair question (and one of my pet peeves) asked by this Detroit Free Press blogger: why do the first two weeks of school have to be fundraising ground zero?

I know the two biggest reasons: 1) Schools need the money more than ever; and 2) there's almost a race to beat the other fundraisers that will be dipping into parents' pockets, but I still think a bit of patience is warranted. Wow me. Get me (and the kids) to love school. Impress us with your commitment to education and our families and kids. Make me love you. And then ask me for my $10! Not vice versa.

If you're a features writer for a local paper, here's my response to the column you're about to write trashing all fundraisers. (It happens every year.) I wrote it for our ptotoday.com site (for PTO and PTA leaders), but it works over here, too.

What's your take on the influx of fundraising?
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College-style fundraising coming to a school near you?

It's certainly a trend, one this Hartford Courant piece captures well. What is it? Districts (or, more often, supporters of the schools in a district) setting major-league fundraising goals and using much more sophisticated tactics (bye-bye bake sales?) to buoy stressed school budgets. Good trend? Or bad trend? That remains to be seen. From my perspective, it's hard to see any efforts that bring more support to our schools as a bad thing. Your thoughts?
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