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Last call for Box Tops!

It’s been a rough year for General Mills’ Box Tops for Education program, which provides funds for schools in exchange for the purchase of participating products. First, coronavirus concerns disrupted everyone’s school and grocery shopping routines. And that came as people were still trying to get used to last year’s switch from paper Box Tops coupons to a new receipt-scanning Box Tops app. As a result, schools’ earnings have plunged to historically-low levels (more on that in just a bit.)

And now, whatever unexpired paper Box Tops coupons that you still have in your junk drawer or attached to product packages purchased long ago, are about to become history. So what are you going to do with them, if your kids still aren’t going to school in-person, or if your school has more important things to worry about right now than appointing an official Box Tops coordinator?

The Box Tops program is now allowing you to mail in your own Box Tops for the very first – and possibly last – time. It’s an effort to ease this year’s unique burdens on parents, and on schools that have come to depend on Box Tops money, but have found themselves sorely disappointed so far this year.

“We know it may be challenging to send traditional Box Tops clips to school this year,” the program has announced, “so we are opening up our submission process to ALL Box Tops supporters so that your school can receive as much cash as possible during these difficult times.”

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From now through November 2, you can mail any clipped Box Tops directly to the Box Tops for Education program, instead of dropping them off at your school. Any unexpired paper Box Tops won’t be accepted again until the spring, and it’s not known whether you’ll still be allowed to mail them in yourself at that point.

Fair warning, though – if you thought navigating the new app is time-consuming, mailing your Box Tops yourself isn’t as easy as just stuffing them into an envelope.

The full instructions are on the Box Tops website. Individual submitters are given the same directions as school Box Top coordinators. You’re asked to sort your Box Tops into groups of 50 (or less, if you don’t have that many), using rubber bands, envelopes or plastic bags, labeling each bundle. Any bonus Box Tops must be bundled separately. Then you fill in and print an online submission form, mail it and the Box Tops themselves to the address provided, and your designated school will be credited 10 cents per Box Top.

Seems like a lot of work. But it’s better than letting your remaining paper Box Tops expire unredeemed. And to some, it might be better than using the app, which has been less than well-received. Or well-used.

As reported here on Coupons in the News over the summer, the Box Tops program raised $22 million for schools this past school year. $22 million is a lot of money, but nowhere near as much as the program has raised in the past – last year’s $22 million was down nearly a third from the $31 million raised the previous school year, and well off the recent high of $78 million raised in 2014-15.

And this year is already shaping up to be far, far worse. Over the past six months, Box Tops app users have earned a total of $1,934,817. At that rate, participants are on pace to make a grand total of $3,869,634 for the year. That’s for roughly 90,000 participating schools – which averages out to a whopping 43 bucks per school.

So don’t spend all those Box Tops earnings in one place!

The switch from paper coupons to a receipt-scanning app was meant to “modernize the program for the next generation of participants,” General Mills explained when it introduced the app last year. And if it gives General Mills some data about what you’re buying at the grocery store, even better – for General Mills. Instead of clipping Box Tops and sending them to your school to mail in, the app will automatically credit your chosen school for the participating products you buy, just as long as you download the app, sign up, and remember to – or choose to – scan your full grocery receipts, showing everything you purchased.

And many are not remembering to – or choosing to – do so.

Even now, more than a year after the digital program was introduced, fans of paper Box Tops are still flooding the program’s Facebook page with concerns and complaints. “I used to save tons of them for my grandson. This year I have a measly $1.70. If the goal was to make it easier, you have not succeeded,” one commenter wrote recently. “Used to clip religiously until new method. Now I just don’t bother,” another wrote. “Who wants to deal with this! Extra things to do… Box Tops are failing us!” a third commenter added.

Schools have also noticed their earnings are declining dramatically. “The app has completely destroyed our Box Tops earnings,” one school coordinator wrote. “The donations to our school have very drastically decreased… Once a viable program at our school, it is basically dead now,” another commented. “We cannot get people to use the app… many of our parents have expressed security concerns with uploading a receipt,” another commenter wrote.

It may seem surly to complain about how a food manufacturer isn’t giving enough money to schools, when it doesn’t have to give anything at all. And it would be nice if schools got adequate funding without having to rely on Box Tops at all to make up any shortfalls. But General Mills includes Box Tops totals in its annual charitable giving reports – so if it doesn’t want to look miserly, the steep decline in charitable school donations in next year’s report is going to be hard to explain.

In the meantime, it’s a good time to dig through your pantry and your junk drawer looking for those last remaining paper Box Tops before next month’s deadline passes to submit them. And if delivering them to your school is too difficult right now, you can take advantage of the ability to mail them in yourself for the very first time. Otherwise, that potentially paltry, all-time low of $3.8 million in total earnings could become reality – and that’s a “first” that nobody involved in the Box Tops program will want to see.

Image source: Box Tops for Education

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