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Charlie and Christopher Elder are on a mission — a mission to collect lots of Box Tops coupons to help their schools, Black Mountain Primary and Elementary.

“My boys fully understand that they are a part of something that helps their school make money to buy the things the schools need, which helps them have a great place to learn,” said Teresa Elder, Charlie and Christopher’s mother. “They love to look for the products at the store. They even catch their daddy and remind him if he’s going to throw away something with a box top logo on it.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed a small pink cut-out coupon on many common grocery items but not thought much of it. What you may not know is that the coupons contain the potential to raise money for schools. General Mills’ fundraising opportunity, called Box Tops for Education, raises 10 cents per coupon for local schools. The dollars can quickly add up if lots of folks collect them.

Unlike some grocery programs where points earned can be cashed in for school supplies, the Box Tops check to your school can be used however the money is needed. Library books are being purchased with Owen Middle’s funds, and Black Mountain Primary’s program last year helped fund a classroom assistant. Black Mountain Elementary’s PTO earned more than $2,000 last year, using the money for special staff appreciation and monetary gifts for teachers to buy classroom supplies at the start of the year.

“With all the budget cuts in our public schools, I am glad to help the schools in this small way,” said Jean Gettys, a regular school volunteer and family member of four children in the Owen district schools.

Many local schools running the program are receiving help with their needs. To spur success, schools set up creative incentives, like classroom contests or chances to earn a party. Black Mountain Primary’s PTO -coordinated program awards classes with Popsicle parties once they reach 500 coupons. In the past, the elementary school PTO has teamed with local businesses like Pepperoni’s Pizza and Kilwin’s to provide a classroom party for the class that collects the highest number of Box Tops. Owen Middle recognizes winning homerooms each quarter, and W.D. Williams Elementary uses similar classroom incentives.

“It’s a fun way to help the school, and it generates school spirit,” Teresa Elder said. “We collect them all year long, get friends and family involved to save them for us. And then I divide them between the two schools my boys attend.”

Initially, the coupons were General Mills products. But now many other brands offer them too. They’re found on common items such as granola bars, soups, cereals, cake mix, paper products, school supplies and more. Each coupon is valued at 10 cents, and the school receives a check made for direct use. Participating schools designate a coordinator who receives and prepares the coupons for mailing.

General Mills has also partnered with hundreds of retailers so that users can earn coupons by shopping on retail websites. The Box Tops Marketplace program makes it possible to significantly multiply efforts. For instance, a Land’s End item bought through the Marketplace program yields two coupons per $10 spent.

The coupon program started more than 20 years ago at a time when California was slashing funding to its public schools. General Mills executives Tom Iverson and Matt DeFano created the program with the intention of ending within a certain timeframe. Instead, the program became one of the largest and most popular school earnings initiatives in the country.

Residents of the Swannanoa Valley can support its schools by dropping off coupons at school offices or by giving them to a student. Coupons may also be mailed directly to a school.

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