This is not the first time someone has shared the story of a kids’ sports league that requires junk food fundraising, but it may be the first time that the league’s program coordinator explicitly stated that the child of a parent willing to pay a bit more instead of being stuck selling $50 of chocolate wouldn’t be welcome.
I’ve said it before and will say it again, our food culture is broken and junk food fundraising is just one small aspect of that, and when you question social norms, no matter how broken they might be, don’t be surprised when you get pushback. But damn, it’s depressing.
Here is the redacted email exchange I was forwarded
My kids’ dad signed our child up for bowling and is telling me I have to sell half of these chocolates.
I asked for information and the lane said that Bowl Canada mandates this.
So I have a few things to ask.
I’ve noticed that General Mills is a sponsor. Do they make the chocolates and are they the party that is behind this arrangement?
Why chocolate when we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic? Especially for an organization encouraging health? There are all sorts of fundraisers. If given the chance I would gladly purchase fresh vegetables through Peak of the Market, for example.
Also, why not give parents the option of giving a donation for tax deductible purposes rather than making them buy a bunch of poor quality chocolate that is probably connected to child labour? You’d still cover the costs you are hoping for.
Bowl Canada Program Coordinator
We are happy to hear that your child will be registering for bowling this season! Yes, Youth Bowl Canada has one official fundraiser each year and our tried and true method of raising funds, to help keep costs down for families, is the sale of chocolates.
Every two years, Youth Bowl Canada considers proposals from many companies offering an array of products, with various levels of monetary return which benefits all levels of bowling in Canada. Chocolate companies can repeatedly offered the best deal to not only bowling, but to schools, community clubs, etc.
General Mills was a sponsor of Bowl Canada last year, however it was simply a free game of bowling offer on select food products in stores. They have not wished to quote on our fundraisers in the past.
I hope I have addressed your concerns. Please feel free to reply should you have any further questions.
Thanks for your quick response. My understanding is, then, that these chocolate sales are mandatory if we want our kids in bowling. Is that correct?
If not correct, if this fundraiser is optional, no big deal; I don’t have to take part in something I find morally objectionable in order for my kid to have this opportunity.
If correct, that you require these chocolate sales, I would urge Bowl Canada to reconsider this policy, for 3 reasons.
1. It is objectionable to force fundraising on families. Some people are very good at this kind of stuff. Others have anxiety or lack the connections to have people to sell to. Sometimes the families least able to support a fundraiser are the ones whose kids most need this kind of programming.
2. This does not support physical health. As I mentioned, obesity is a major issue in society. I can appreciate that you are looking for good money makers but I think non-profits should be mindful of other considerations.
3. Why not give parents the option of something else? I am not going to sell these chocolates. If I end up buying half from my kids’ dad I will end up with chocolate I don’t want in my house and maybe end up throwing it out. I will have spent what? $50 on chocolate so Bowl Canada can get $20? I’d much rather just give you the $20 profit you are looking for. Why not just give me that option rather than making me spend more money than is necessary?
4. Chocolate is ethically problematic. Most chocolate manufacturers have child labour and harsh conditions as part of the production process. This is wrong and I believe what we support with our money should not hurt other people.
So I find myself between a rock and a hard place: I love my kid in bowling, it has been great for him. But I don’t think it’s right to force me to take part in something I find morally objectionable.
Please reconsider your policy.
Bowl Canada Program Coordinator
Yes, chocolate sales are required for the YBC program to participate in all YBC programs and events.
I will, however forward your concerns on to those that review YBC policies for future consideration.
Last week I gave a talk to some parents at my youngest daughter’s elementary school.
The talk was about our ridiculous food environment where we are all the proverbial frogs in pots of water that have slowly been heated to a boil, where food, especially junk food, is constantly used to reward, pacify, and entertain our children as well as to fundraise for every cause.
Ironically, the day before the talk I received an email from the school’s parent council extolling me to sign my daughter up for weekly pizza days. In it I was told,
“The most valuable fundraiser is Pizza Mondays. $0.50 of every order, every week goes to the [redacted]. It’s a win/win/win! One less lunch for you to make, a delicious (and nutritious) slice of pizza for your child and $16.50 to the [redacted]!”
Looking past the wisdom (or lack thereof) of children been taught by their school week in and week out, from Kindergarten to Grade 7, that fast food pizza is a normal, weekly, “nutritious“, meal, I couldn’t help but wonder just how valuable it really was in terms of fundraising, and so I asked principal.
She told me that the school’s Pizza Mondays cut raises $6,000 per year (12,000 slices served).
There are 700 students in the school.
$6,000/700 students/year = $8.57/student/year
And if Pizza Mondays are the most valuable fundraiser, then perhaps it’d be fair to assume that in total, the school raises $10,000/year in food sale initiatives. That would be $14.30 per kid per year.
Is there really no other way to raise $14.30 per kid than selling them, and normalizing, weekly (or multiple times per week) junk food?
I think there probably is, and here are 3 suggestions each of which by itself might do the job, let alone together (and these are just 3 ideas, there are so many more out there as well).
Fundscrip is simple to describe. Parents buy gift cards from Fundscrip for stores they already shop at (supermarkets, gas stations, hardware stores, clothing stores, business and school supply stores, toy stores, book stores, electronic stores, restaurants etc.). The gift cards work just like regular gift cards (meaning they work just like cash) and are mailed directly to parents’ homes, and the school receives 2-5% (depending on the store) of the value of the gift cards. Given the average family of 4 in Canada’s weekly grocery bill runs in at a reported $220, if even only 10% of the school’s parents got involved, and if they only used the cards to cover half of their grocery costs, the 3% kickback to the schools would raise $12,000. And that’s just by way of groceries!
Many schools run grandparents’ days. Simply put they involve inviting all the kids’ grandparents to school, putting on some sort of song and dance production, giving the proud grandparents a tour, and either charging them a nominal fee for tickets ($5), or simply soliciting donations during the event (and perhaps annually having a singular cause which then gets branded for that year’s grandparents if monies raised). 700 elementary students should conservatively mean at least 1400 grandparents. If only half of them attended, and an average of $5/grandparent was raised, that would bring in $3,500.
School Parents’ Goods and Services Auction
With 700 families in our child’s school, there are clearly a great many different professions represented among the parents. Creating a night whereby parents can donate goods or services (with a cut to the school) is a great way to both raise money, and raise interest and awareness of the parent body’s businesses. Lawyers might donate a discounted will consultations, I could donate work with one of our RDs, or with our personal trainers, artists could donate their art, restauranteurs could donate meals, etc. Done right, and certainly once established as a valuable annual event, there’s no reason why this couldn’t raise $3,000-$10,000.
The bottom line is that schools truly don’t need to sell junk food to children to raise money as there are plenty of other means to do so. Yes, school sold junk food is convenient for parents who aren’t keen on making lunches every day, but given we are literally building our children out of what we feed them, and that weekly (daily in some cases) school junk food sales teaches kids, even those who don’t order them, that daily junk food is a normal, healthy part of life, taking the time to pack those lunches (or to teach our kids how to pack lunches themselves) is well worth it.
So it’s back to school time, and zero doubt, many of your kids are going to have teachers and schools who will use candy and junk food as a reward.
It’s a shame too, not just because they’ll be providing your kids with junk, but also because they’ll be teaching them, over and over and over, that junk is a reward for anything and everything.
I’ve written before about easy non-junk food rewards for teachers, I’ve also written about how you might want to approach things with your kids’ sugar pushers, and I even kept track one year of just how much junk other people were offering my kids. What was clear from the response to all of these pieces was just how prevalent this problem was, and just how frustrated parents are.
Well as a sign of those times, in the UK, a new charity has popped up called The Rewards Project and its mission is trying to change this common practice. Click through and you’ll find some sample letters to send to your child’s school (though I think they’d be much better were they to offer some alternatives and suggestions in them and as I wrote about and linked above, lead with praise for the school and its teachers).
All this to say, if there are charities popping up geared at tackling this issue, clearly there’s a real appetite out there for change. In turn this suggests – and my experiences with my kids’ schools and more would definitely support this notion – that your kids’ schools and teachers might be more open to changing things than you might think.
You’ll never know unless you try.
(Thanks to Dr. Miriam Berchuk for sending this my way)
To be clear, neither Random House, nor Kellogg’s, should be fairly expected to do the right thing when it comes to health.
Kellogg’s job is to see food. Random House’s job is to sell books. Nothing more, nothing less.
Truly, not a single choice parents or children should be encouraged to make. All ultra-processed, sugary, junk (and some crackers and potato chips).
Again, no reason to expect either Random House or Kellogg’s to be doing the right thing by kids, but in my opinion, their clear partnership in doing the wrong thing here certainly doesn’t reflect well on either of them.