For the past four years, the University of Connecticut’s Dining Services has donated thousands of General Mills cereal box tops to Mansfield Middle School in order to help the school raise money, Buckley Dining Hall Area Manager Susan O’Keefe said.
The collection began when O’Keefe talked to Mansfield Middle School’s Principal, explaining that she wanted to take on this initiative and asking if the middle school would be interested in the idea.
“(I told him) that at the end of the year, I’d be delivering him box tops – at the time I didn’t know how many – and he was grateful for whatever we could give him,” O’Keefe said.
The box tops are collected individually at each dining hall, and then sent over to O’Keefe at Buckley, where they are counted and stashed until the end of May. All the box tops are then donated to Mansfield Middle School, and in turn to the Mansfield Middle School Association (MMSA). The association returns the box tops in to General Mills, who sends the school a check, O’Keefe said.
Once the check is received, teachers petition for grants that will benefit the middle school. Last year, 18 out of 21 requests were honored, according to a document provided by MMSA president Jean Johnson.
The money made from the box tops that UConn provides are mixed in with middle school students’ own box top collections, as well as the school’s fundraising efforts. This combined monetary support funds the grant requests submitted each year, so it is unclear what the actual percentage is for UConn’s contribution toward funding each grant, O’Keefe said.
Last year, the total number of box tops collected from all eight dining halls clocked in at 16,206 – a monetary donation of $1,620.60, with each box top equivalent to 10 cents, according to dining services statistics. O’Keefe said these numbers are comparatively similar every year – about one large garbage bag full of box tops.
Some of the grants honored last year included: one hydroponic unit for the school’s greenhouse that can be reused each year; funding to host a welcome event for new students; start-up for an academic honors society to mentor other students; a new bass drum for the band program; and funding to allow students to design, build and race an alternative energy vehicle against other middle schools. Other grant honorees included hosting guest performers and providing transportation for field trips, according to Johnson.
O’Keefe and Michael White, the assistant director of dining services, agreed that what started out as a casual idea turned into something bigger than the middle school could’ve thought, and the school seems very thankful for the large donations UConn provides them with.
“In the beginning I guess you could describe the reception as ‘oh yeah, that sounds good, we’re willing to participate,’” White said. “Now I think it’s at the point where you read some of these and they seem very thankful for what we do.”
O’Keefe noted that the mass box top donation also helps out students in adaptive learning classes who lack fine motor skills.
“They have the students cut out any ragged edges, if they’re not neatly cut already, to make the box tops nice and clean.”
Dining Services only donates to Mansfield Middle School, not only because it’s close and local, but because it would be very difficult to try and donate box tops to several schools, White said.
“We talked in the past about spreading it out more, but if you spread this thing out, and everybody only got a little bit, it would diminish the component (the effects of the donation),” White said. “There’s so many groups – there’s a lot of schools around us – you just sort of pick one and you run with it.”
The box top collection is done through some friendly competition between dining hall managers, and all the units have different strategies for collecting the box tops. White said the collection is not monitored, so while it is safe to say not every single box top is collected, employees really get into it.
“They don’t get anything for winning, just kind of like, ‘hey good job,’” White said. “It’s really just employees putting a little effort in to cut them out, and they’re really good about it.”
Last year, Northwest dining hall won the “competition” with 5,184 box tops; South came in second with 3,356; McMahon with 2600; Whitney with 1,540; Putnam with 1,100; Gelfenbien with 1,345; North with 968; and finally Buckley with 113.
“Northwest and South and McMahon probably buy the most cereal for the whole department anyway,” White said. “So I’m not surprised they have the most opportunity to turn them in.”