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GENERAL MILLS BOX TOPS FOR EDUCATION LOGO

If you’re a couponer with school-aged kids, chances are you’ve clipped a “Box Tops For Education” label or two. Now, the program is marking a milestone – though it’s coming at something of an awkward time.

This week, the Box Tops program announced that it’s surpassed a half billion dollars in earnings since its inception in 1996. In all, the program has given away more than $525 million to schools. Each Box Tops label is worth 10 cents in funding to local schools, which means we’ve clipped more than 5 billion of those suckers over the past 17 years.

“We couldn’t be prouder to have reached such a significant milestone,” General Mills’ chief marketing officer Mark Addicks said in a news release. “But we couldn’t have reached $525 million without the passionate coordinators that help collect Box Tops.”

But some are more passionate than others. As Box Tops celebrates giving away all that money, one participating company is disputing one man’s claim for a portion of it. A very large portion.

Kimberly-Clark, which features Box Tops labels on many of its products, is investigating a claim by a Brooklyn man who sent in tens of thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of Box Tops worth many thousands of dollars. Nechemia Newman was hoping for a big windfall to help out five private schools in his neighborhood. So he gathered bags full of Box Tops, and “truckloads” full of bags. “Each bag holds hundreds” of Box Tops, he told New York’s WPIX-TV, “and we’re talking about 75,000 of them. It was real work over time.”

Many of them were bonus Box Tops worth five and ten times the standard amount – or up to a dollar each. But Kimberly-Clark says Newman sent in far more than 75,000. It claims to have counted more than 300,000. That would make his haul worth a dollar amount well into six figures.

So how does one collect 75,000 – or 300,000 – Box Tops, exactly?

“We had a team of parents helping. I created a network,” Newman told the New York Daily News. Oh, and he also had help from a wholesaler who gave him the wrappers from thousands of packages of Scott toilet paper.

“He buys truckloads and repackages them,” Newman explained. The wholesaler buys mega-sized packages, then breaks them up into smaller units to resell to neighborhood stores. The packaging – imprinted with bonus Box Tops – was being thrown out. Once Newman contacted him, he began receiving Box Tops by the bagful.

Officials with Scott’s parent company, Kimberly-Clark, became suspicious when those bags started arriving on their doorstep. “We had such an extraordinarily high number of coupons redeemed by one person,” spokesman Bob Brand told the Daily News. “We still need to figure out if the coupons were gathered appropriately. Until we are comfortable with verifying how this was obtained we are not in a position to pay.”

Newman insists what he did was legit. But he’s reluctant to give up the name of his wholesaler supplier, as Kimberly-Clark has requested. “I don’t want to ruin my business over this,” the wholesaler told the Daily News. “I was trying to do this as a charity. Once they sell me the product, we can do whatever we want with it.”

Neighborhood residents are divided. “More power to him,” said the head of one school Newman was trying to help. “I don’t think what he did was wrong.” The head of another school had a decidedly different opinion. “It’s an illegal campaign,” he said, adding that Newman and the people who support him “are delusional.”

While the investigation continues, the uncertainty casts a bit of a pall over the Box Tops program’s celebration this week, and makes its news release appear to be a little tone deaf. It’s urging participants to “help meet its goal of helping America’s schools earn another $75 million by the end of 2013.”

Just as long as you don’t do it 300,000 Box Tops at a time.


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