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Bake-Sale Battle: Health Department Suggests Non-Food Fundraisers for Schools

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In its effort to control obesity, New York City has limited the number of bake sales in public schools to once a month and evenings. Many parents have complained that the cupcake cops have gone too far.

Now, the Health Department is suggesting healthier fundraising alternatives, most of which don’t even involve food. Flowers, jewelry and student photos are some of the ideas. They’re all explained in a 19-page booklet called “Yes, You Can! A Fresh Look at Healthy Fundraisers for Schools.” Cathy Nonas, the Health Department’s director of physical activity and nutritional programs, says the goal is to get schools used to the idea of “non-food fundraising” and “to reduce that idea that the only way that you can make money and the easiest way you can make money is through bake sales or food sales in general.”

Here’s where you may be thinking, "Good luck with that." But Nonas says many of the tips actually came from parent groups at three schools in and around Harlem. One of them is Central Park East II. Parent Association President Yhane Smith says the school has held some pretty lucrative non-food fundraisers.

“[On] picture day we raised a thousand dollars. I’m gonna estimate. We had a raffle, we raised $4,500,” Smith says. When asked what they raffled off to raise that much in $2 tickets she said, “Yankees tickets. Really good Yankees tickets.”


Central Park East II Principal Naomi Smith (sitting) with (L to R) Liz Wolfe, Tuesday Brooks and Yhane Smith of the school’s Parent Association. They’ve raised money for books and class trips by selling photos, raffle tickets and shirts with student's artwork as alternatives to bake sales.

Those came from a well-connected friend. But Smith says it’s easy to find local photographers for student photos. Vendors are listed in the new brochure. The parents also sold student art printed on T-shirts and mugs. Smith says events like these raised more money than a pie sale the school held before the winter holidays.

“I don’t understand why people think a bake sale is easier,” she says. “I really don’t. You’re only selling to the people who are there at the school at the time, whereas if you have raffle tickets you can sell to people on the subway.”

Central Park East II is a small elementary school that’s been particularly interested in health and wellness. Principal Naomi Smith cut out low-fat chocolate milk on most days, even though it’s part of the city’s improved school lunch menus. And she doesn’t sell the small bags of packaged treats including Doritos and granola bars that are allowed under the fundraising policy.

“We don’t want to sell those things to the kids,” she says. “We’ll give it to them when it’s a treat time, but we don’t want to promote it and as a way to support our school.”

Central Park East II now has an active parent association that supports these policies. But parent Julie Atwell admits she initially clashed with the principal.

“Because I wanted to do a chocolate fundraiser for right before Easter,” she recalls. “And she was like, ‘No you can’t do chocolate. It’s against our health and wellness policy,’ and I was like, ‘But it’s going to make lots of money,’ and, I mean, she’s right.”

The city’s Health Department hopes other parents will feel the same way. About 200 brochures promoting healthy fundraisers were given out to parent groups in East and Central Harlem in January. But fundraisers are usually planned in the fall, so it was too late. And many parents contacted by WNYC didn’t know about the brochures.

The department says it's preparing more outreach. With principals planning to cut their budgets by another 4 percent, parents may be ready to listen to any ideas that can help them raise money for schools.


Scan some suggested fundraising ideas -- and let us know if they would work at your school -- on the WNYC News Blog.

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