MOUNT CARMEL — What’s in your pantry could mean cash to help local children. It’s not the food, though — it’s the cardboard boxes it’s in.

Nevin Balliet, president of the Mount Carmel Area PTA, said his organization participates in the “Box Tops for Education” program, which was started in the late 1990s by corporate giant General Mills.

Its goal is simple. Shoppers buy certain specially-marked products, clip off the box top and give it to a participating school, which then mails in the tops in exchange for cash.

“Each one of those box tops is worth ... 10 cents,” Balliet said. “It really adds up.”

Last year, the Mount Carmel PTA received just over $1,000.

“It’s a huge financial boost to the PTA,” he said.

The organization uses the funds strictly for the students who attend the district’s schools.

“We really want to do some more programs with the PTA,” Balliet said. “We spend between $6,000 and $8,000 each year.”

One of the incentives the organization provides to each student is a color-coded T-shirt to be worn during their “track and field day.”

“They wear the shirts on field trips too,” he said, adding it’s an easy way for chaperones to “keep an eye on the kids.” The shirts themselves often become a memento of the school year.

“The PTA pays for the class field trip,” Balliet said. “The sixth-graders go to Hershey and the younger kids to Lake Tobias.”

In addition, the parent-teacher group purchases a small Christmas gift — such as a lunch box or scarf — for every child every year.

Raising funds through the box-top program has slowed considerably, Balliet said, though the reason is unclear. Qualifying box tops are found on many types of products, including beverages, cereal, food storage, frozen foods, cleaning supplies, paper products, meals and sides, baking and bakeware, produce, dairy and refrigerated items, school and office supplies, snacks, tableware and waste bags.

“It was really popular when it first came out, but it’s waned,” he said.

He is among those who are hoping for a revival. The project is a good way for individuals and groups to actually make a difference in their school communities.

Balliet said the Mount Carmel PTA has collection boxes set up at a variety of area businesses. After contributors drop off the box tops, PTA members collect them, affix them in groups of 10 or 15 to a sheet and submit them to the company twice a year, in March and October. Soon afterward, a check is received.

He hopes that with more people saving the tops, the organization will be able to collect more money.

“We’re hoping to get up into the $4,000 to $5,000” range, he said. “We’d be able to do more projects for the kids. It would help a good organization move in the right direction.”

Mount Carmel Area is not the only Northumberland County school district to participate in Box Tops for Education. To see if your local district participates, go to www.boxtops4education.com.

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