Monday, February 9, 2009

Grocers & Community: 769 Schools in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona to Participate in Tesco Fresh & Easy's 'Shop For Schools' Program

Fresh & Easy Buzz was the first publication we are aware of to report in this December 17, 2008 story [Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Launches 'Shop for Schools' Fund-Raising Program to Aid Schools Near its Stores] that Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market was launching what it calls its "Shop for Schools" program, in which the grocery and fresh foods chain is giving participating schools in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona $1 out of every $20 spent by shoppers at Fresh & Easy stores from February 1 -to- March 31, 2009, based on store receipts collected by parents and students and submitted to the grocer.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy did issue this press release announcing the program on January 7, 2009, resulting in reports by a number of publications about the "Shop for Schools" program, following the distribution of the release.

On Friday (February 6), Tesco's Fresh & Easy announced that 769 schools in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona have registered for the "Shop for Schools" program.

That's a healthy number of schools, which doesn't surprise us in the least bit because public schools in California, Nevada and Arizona are struggling at present in ways not seen for decades. The schools need all the financial assistance they can muster right now in order to just keep the programs they have in place, as well as to do simple things like purchase essential supplies such as paper, pens and books, which many teachers use their own money to buy for their classrooms. [Tesco's Fresh & Easy had extended the school registration deadline, which we wrote about in this piece on January 23.]

Here's what Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Arizona region manager Al O' Donnell says about the program, and about the fact that 159 public schools (out of the 769 total) have signed-up in the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan region, the Arizona market where the grocer has its stores: "The interest in our 'Shop for Schools' program has been incredible. We've received a great response from parents, teachers and staff who are all very excited to help increase their schools' budgets, said We are happy to be able to help support our local schools especially in a time when school budgets are so tight."

Public school budgets are extremely tight throughout the U.S., and especially so in California, Nevada and Arizona, three of the states hardest hit by the housing foreclosure crisis and the huge decrease in housing values. On average, housing values in California, Nevada and Arizona are down by 25 -to- 50% in just the last year alone.

Since public school districts rely primarily on property tax revenue for most of their operational support, the severe housing foreclosure crisis, along with that rapid decline in housing values (which means lower property taxes and thus less overall revenue) has hit schools extremely hard, resulting in massive cutbacks and even teacher layoffs in the three states.

Fresh & Easy's "Shop for Schools" program started on February 1. It will run until March 31, 2009.

According to the grocery and fresh foods chain, the program works like this: The participating schools are mobilizing parents and students to collect Fresh & Easy store receipts from family members, friends, co-workers and others. The schools then submit the receipts to Fresh & Easy for verification. Once verified, Tesco's Fresh & Easy will cut a check to each school for the amount raised ($1 out of every $20 in receipt totals), and the money can be used for whatever the school needs most.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market also is offering a $5,000 bonus (on top of what is raised by the schools) to the one school in each state that collects the most verified receipts and thus raises the most money. This bonus element should create an added incentive for the students and parents to collect even more Fresh & Easy store receipts than they normally might -- as well as perhaps encouraging family members, friends, co-workers and others to shop at Fresh & Easy as a way to provide added donation dollars to the schools, something the grocer no doubt hopes will happen.

Fresh & Easy Buzz likes what the grocery and fresh foods chain is doing with its "Shop for Schools" program for a couple related reasons:

First, it's the right thing to do. Schools need help badly right now. Grocers aren't just retailers of goods, they also are part of the communities and neighborhoods they do business in. Therefore, education is a business/economic good as well as a community good. It's something we all, businesses and individuals, need to support, for the good of children and for the good of our communities. And on the practical side, the better educated a person is, the more income they generally will make as adults. The more income people have, the more they can spend at the grocery store, and the more taxes they can afford to support schools, for example.

Second, the "Shop for Schools" program fits well with Tesco Fresh & Easy's desire to be known as a "neighborhood" grocer. Programs like this will help it towards achieving this goal, in part. It needs to do much more though.

For example, the independent neighborhood grocer is the model in this sort of community and neighborhood food retailing. From the beginnings to today, America's independent grocers have been and are arguably the most community involved of perhaps any business sector in America. From holding food drives in-store to allowing charities to use the front of the stores for everything from bake sales to Girl Scout Cookie sales, along with supporting a myriad of community institutions -- schools, recreation leagues, food pantries, ect. -- independent, neighborhood grocers have set the bar high in terms of earning the label of "Neighborhood" or "Community" grocer.

Since Tesco's Fresh & Easy wants to be viewed by consumers as a neighborhood grocer similar to the "community-involved" independent, this is the bar Tesco's Fresh & Easy must meet if it wants to be a true "Neighborhood" grocer in anything more than the title of its stores. Programs like "Shop for Schools" are an excellent beginning towards the grocery and fresh foods chain's start in "earning" the "Neighborhood" in "Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market."

We applaud Tesco's Fresh & Easy for its "Shop for Schools" program and encourage the retailer to move forward with similar community and neighborhood-based programs that combine good marketing and community relations with good deeds. Win-wins not only are good for the community -- they also can be very good marketing.

Donors Choose.Org: Readers -- You can help too

Speaking of helping our schools, Fresh & Easy Buzz recently became aware of (and made a contribution of our own using the tool) of a simple way our readers can help public schools -- and students -- without leaving your computer.

That simple way to help is the Web site DonorsChoose.Org, founded by Charles Best, a social studies teacher in the Bronx, New York School District in the New York City Schools system.

Best and his fellow teachers at the Bronx, New York public school where he was teaching were using their own funds to buy basic supplies like paper, pens and books for the school kids, which is something numerous teachers at schools throughout the U.S. do today. But the New York public school didn't have enough money to do much more than that, despite a massive need for other supplies the school district wasn't providing. That, says Best, was the mother of invention for the DonorsChoose.Org Website, a way to link teachers and students in need with potential citizen donors.

Donors Best works this way: Teachers from schools throughout the U.S. submit requests on the Donors Choose Web site for supplies -- ranging from books and other basics to things like a microscope for a biology class -- that students need but the schools aren't providing. People, just like you, can then search the site for specific projects they want to support and make a donation of any amount. There's likely a school in your city asking for help on the Web site.

Founder Charles Best calls the process "citizen philanthropy," saying even a $10 donation goes a long way to helping students. He is right.

Donors Choose -- who's theme is: "Teacher's Ask, You Choose, Students Learn" -- buys the materials you donate your money for within 1-2 days after receiving the donation, Best says. The group then compiles thank you notes from the class that is receiving the materials from donors like you. "This way ordinary folks get the feedback (for your donations) usually reserved for millionaire philanthropists," Charles Best says.

You can choose the specific school and project to make a donation to, and donate as little or as much money as you want and can afford using the Donors Choice Web site. And the site is localized to your state and region, and in most cases county and city as well. Check it out at: In the words of Martha Stewart: "It's a good thing."

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