The first request came a couple of weeks ago. My daughter-in-law wrote in our family group chat that my twin granddaughters’ middle school was hosting a fundraiser.
Wait! Didn’t school just start?
No matter. She informed us — or warned us, depending on your viewpoint — that we would be getting a text from the sixth-graders asking for a contribution, and indeed we did receive a text from the budding saleswomen. Several, in fact, each providing a handy-dandy link to encourage generosity. One featured them with hands clasped, a pleading look on their faces: Puhleeez remember our fundraiser.
A grandparent would rather skimp on toilet paper than turn down such an appeal.
A short time later another request pinged on my phone. A different set of grandchildren, a first-grader and kindergartner, were offering their own school fundraiser. Could we, would we?
Ah, it’s that time of year, when children all across America buckle down to homework and peddling gift wrap, chocolates, kitchen gadgets and coupon books to supplement their school’s budget. Other people mark the start of autumn by dipping temperatures and changing leaves, but I recognize the change of season when kids begin asking for money.
I’m a veteran of these rituals. For decades, when my five children were attending school, I hawked all manner of goods for PTA/PTOs, school clubs and athletic teams. At one point I had tissue paper in a dozen colors, gift bows in assorted sizes and enough wrapping paper to last me several seasons. And that was just for starters. Over the years I also bought an olive oil sprayer, a corn cob scraper, a pig-shaped timer, a Santa Claus cookie plate and some kind of jar opener I still don’t know how to use.
I’ve lost track of the edibles, however, namely because I ate them. Those went straight to my hips and stayed there.
Of course, school fundraising isn’t always about begging and selling. There are times when you actually have to do something. Bake sales. Car washes. Parking cars. Manning a concession stand. One year, The Hubby and I, along with another football booster club couple, spent an entire Saturday grilling hamburgers and hot dogs at a NASCAR event. It was not a bonding experience.
My lower back ached afterward, and I couldn’t scrub off the smell of frying meat from my skin and clothes for days. Oh, The Hubby and I weren’t on speaking terms at the end of the evening, either. I’m not sure why.
Speaking of The Hubby, he’s one of the many who think these fundraisers are an embarrassment, proof that we as a society have lost track of what truly matters by not demanding that our legislators fund our schools as they should be funded. (Which is an entirely other column.) He also believes that it would be a lot more efficient if parents (and grandparents) donated directly to the school. In other words, do away with the school fundraising middlemen who make a pretty penny off the gourmet popcorn children are selling.
As a retired teacher, he’s particularly appalled by the way fundraising exacerbates the inequalities that already exist between schools. In some neighborhoods, expecting parents to buy a collection of gift bags is ludicrous when they’re struggling to put food on the table. In others, buying a $12 box of chocolates is just another way to build school spirit.
My twin granddaughters raised a significant chunk of change — the benefit of belonging to a large extended family — and their new school made tens of thousands of dollars. Good for them, but what about the children who will never benefit from such community largesse? Is it fair to deepen the disparity between ZIP codes?
Makes me look at my closetful of wrapping paper in a whole new light.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.