Monday, January 21, 2008

Raising dough: The new generation of school fundraisers

I bake to battle the cold. Last night wasn't as bone-chilling as the night before when the mercury dipped to below 0. But I had to clean out the fridge to make room for two weeks' of groceries so I had added incentive to bake the remaining white chocolate macadamia nut cookies I purchased in a school fundraiser. It reminded me of a column I wrote two years ago that was published in the local newspaper. I've pasted it below.

"Do you want to buy some cookie dough?"
"Oh, sure, how much? Six? Eight dollars for a pail?"
"Fourteen."
"What?!"
"They're break-and-bakes and you get ... uh ... '48 one-ounce cookies.' "
"Oh, OK, I guess. If it means the class can go to the Pittsburgh Zoo. How many do you have to sell anyway?"
"Twenty-four."
"Twenty-four?! And he gets to go to the zoo?"
"No, twenty-four and he gets the Shaking Monkey Motion-Sensor Door Alarm."

Do the math with me. I just paid 30 cents per cookie for no-name dough when Nestle Toll House place-and-bake cookie dough costs $3-$4 for two dozen cookies.

But ... it's for the kids.

Like the vegetable peeler and dip mix I bought. And the chances on a side of beef. And the box of oranges.

It's always something.

And sometimes it's always from the same kids.

Or at least their parents. It's just not safe anymore for kids to peddle pizzas door-to-door for band like I did, so it falls to their parents to take the brochures to work and call up relatives.

A lot has changed about fundraising since I was in school.

Remember TomWat?

I was equally excited and embarrassed once a year when the little boy I had a crush on from prekindergarten through sixth grade came to my house with his cardboard box of demos to get my mom to buy something. Excited because he was in my house! Embarrassed because my mom would inevitably buy something like a toilet paper roll filled with scented beads. God forbid he know we use the bathroom.

Back then we were restricted geographically. If your grandma lives across the country, how will you deliver her order, let alone get her to look at the catalog?

But the sales pitches have evolved to make sure no relative misses a chance to support Junior's school or Scout troop.

I think turning in the addresses on your Christmas card list was just showing up when I was moving from junior high to high school. The companies send your friends and relatives a list of magazines at discount prices and an order form that the student has filled out (clearly it's his mom's handwriting) with his T-shirt size (for the prize, should he sell two subscriptions) and a "personalized" message he's picked from a list of suggestions including "I love you" and a smiley face. I've received, no exaggeration, seven of these this year. More than one from the same family in some cases.

A couple of years ago, I was indoctrinated into another cross-country fundraiser. The nephews in Arkansas let us know by e-mail that we could log on to a Web site, buy something that would be shipped to us, and they'd get credit for their school, and presumably, prizes.

The pitch may have changed, but the prizes have kept pace. One company's reward for top sales is an iPod Nano. The best prize when I was a kid for selling the most of anyone in your school was the iPod's entertainment equivalent in the '80s: a "boom box." The few lucky kids who reached that level had parents who worked at a hospital or a factory like Sterling Faucet.

So for the sake of a monkey that alerts you to someone near your bedroom door, I'm helping out.

"Want to buy some cookie dough?" I asked my mom.
"Sure, we just bought off ... "
"But wait till you hear how much it costs."
"Doesn't matter," she said, pulling out an 8-ounce box of waxy chocolate studded with stale walnuts that set her back $8.50. "Have a piece of fudge."

Copyright 2006 The Dominion Post.

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