A healthy funding source for the Yosemite High School band and choir, and other non-profits in Oakhurst is coming to an end.
Thanks to the Vons eScrip program the eight groups have had their combined budgets bolstered by $233,000.
The program allowed Safeway/Vons customers to designate an organization to support, and the grocery chain would donate a percentage of that customer’s grocery bill to the designated organization(s).
Over the past 16 years, the program has provided more than $300 million to California schools and non-profits.
“After a great deal of careful thought and consideration, Safeway and Vons have decided to conclude their association with eScrip as the mechanism to donate to local organizations,” read the unsigned letter sent to participants in the program.
The eight non-profits and the dollar amounts they have received through the program include:
* Yosemite High School Band - $114,457
* Oakhurst Elementary School - $30,000
* Yosemite Unified Alternative Schools - $25,565
* Joyful Noise Preschool - $24,000
* Oakhurst Lutheran Church - $11,700
* Yosemite High School Choir - $11,159
* Oak Creek Intermediate School - $15,000
* New Community United Methodist Church - $1,040.
As a transition, Safeway/Vons has decided to generously give the non-profits 95% of what the groups earned in 2014 for 2015. The YHS band will be receiving $1,745 in quarterly installments starting Sept. 30, and ending June 30, 2016. The other non-profits will also receive quarterly payments through next June.
Additional funds, although minimal, went to YHS drama, swimming, cheer, girls basketball, and football.
In the case of schools, the funds are directly deposited in the accounts of booster clubs or parent-teacher clubs.
YHS Band Booster club member and coordinator of the band’s eScrip account, Kelly Esposito, received notification from the Safeway/Vons corporate office in Sacramento in late July that the program would end effective Aug. 1 - over a nine year period, the program has provided $114,457 to the band, and $11,159 to the school choir.
“I was devastated to make the announcement that the program ended,” Esposito said. “Although I am so grateful that Safeway/Vons is distributing additional money through this school year.”
Esposito said the program was a remarkable benefit to the band for the past eight years.
“It allowed the band program to purchase new instruments, and help fund many of the band’s trips and activities,” Esposito said. “We are very sorry to lose this program, but are hopeful that some funds may become available through a new grant program through Vons.”
When the band began the program in 2005, about 60 families signed-up to assist the band, with that number doubling the next year. The program grew to about 500 families according Esposito, who has served as the band eScrip coordinator for the past five years.
Jessica (Fullmer) Koenen was a sophomore at YHS 10 years ago when she helped the Band Boosters sign people up for the program at all the home football games.
“It was a great program, and we really worked hard to get people to sign-up for it to help the band,” Koenen said.
The school district provides an annual budget of about $10,000 to the YHS band, a budget that has been nearly doubled each year by the eScrip program.
The funds from the school budget primarily provides for staffing and instruments. The additional funds from eScrip has allowed the program to purchase additional instruments as needed, allow the band to travel to band competitions, and help with expenses for the program’s annual three-day spring trip.
YHS Band Director Francisco Marquez said the loss of the eScrip program is huge, and comes at a time when the participation in the music programs at the high school and Mountain Area elementary schools is growing to an all time high.
Marques points out that the YHS band is up to 65 members and four feeder schools (Wasuma, Coarsegold, Rivergold, and Oak Creek Intermediate) have close to 140 students in their music programs.
Marquez said the eScrip program was a safe and efficient way for members of the community to donate to the band and other non-profits in town.
“I hope that the Safeway/Vons company will consider replacing the opportunity for groups to fund raise through them,” Marquez said. “eScrip was a great way to tie the store to the local community.”
YHS Principal Randy Seals said the end of the program places a heavy burden upon everyone, a burden that came with almost no advance notice.
“All of us associated with the YHS music program are considering everything when it comes to making up the difference by finding new revenue streams to offset this loss,” Seals said. “Unfortunately, this comes at a time when our district is still dealing with a financial crisis of its own, and additional monies would come at the expense of other programs, which is not an option either at this time. We are committed to our music program, the students and their families, program boosters, and incredible instructors. It will take all of us working together to overcome the financial challenges that we face.”
Yosemite Unified School District Superintendent James Sargent said the district is proud of its outstanding high school and elementary school music programs, and the district is committed to the continued support of the programs.
“We know these programs are growing - the district recently made a commitment to purchase some new instruments,” Sargent said.
Yosemite Unified Alternative Schools have participated in the program which has enabled the alternative schools to purchase art supplies, go on field trips, pay for meals for student gatherings, and pay the rental fee at Mountain Christian Center for graduation ceremonies.
Oakhurst Elementary School was part of the program for five years and received about $30,000. The majority of the funds came from Vons, although some funds came from a similiar Raley’s program.
The funds were used for many programs, events, and activities over the years including, but not limited to, K-2 music program, grade 3-5 art program, grade 3-5 after-school choir, assemblies, field trips, math festival, PE equipment, materials for special holiday-themed projects, OES folders, Spirit Night, Ted Lilly Park Benches, signage for the school, school t-shirts/sweatshirts, library books, art supplies, Family Movie Nights, Jog-a-thon, and staff appreciation luncheon.
“On behalf of the students and staff, we are so thankful and appreciative for the community support both Vons and Raley’s have provided to Oakhurst Elementary School over many years,” said Kathleen Murphy, school principal. “The vast amount of money the school has received over the years is really a reflection of the wonderful support of our parents and community. As they are the ones helping our school by shopping at our local grocery stores.”
Oak Creek Intermediate School received about $15,000 from the program, with funds being used for supplies and programs including books, science club, choir, Teacher Appreciation Day, Academic Pentathlon, art, and graduation ceremonies.
The Oakhurst Lutheran Church raised about $11,700 from the program. Funds were used for youth programs, and various improvements form the church such as new carpeting, landscaping.
Along with the Safeway/Vons announcement that the eScrip program was being discontinued, the company announced that starting in July, 2016, schools and non-profits will be eligible to apply for grants through an online application system at safewayfoundation.org.
The YHS music program is now looking for alternative funding sources - one being a new fundraiser - a “Win-A-Band” raffle. Band members began selling $1 raffle tickets this week. The drawing will provide the lucky winner an exclusive holiday performance by the band, either at a private home party, or a business event.
Marquez hopes the raffle will raise a minimum of $7,000, which will go directly to the instrumental music program, and the music department’s spring tour. The winner will be announced at the Winter Concert on Dec. 3.
Details: Francisco Marquez, (559) 683-4667, ext. 243.
Senior project will help band program
“Don’t Stop the Music,” is the senior project of YHS students Taylor Burtle, and Caressa Reynoso - a project to raise funds for the YHS band and choir.
Burtle and Reynoso will be doing bake and candy sales, and placing donation jars at area businesses. they are also going around schools and around town picking up recyclable cans and bottles to turn in for cash.
“The money that we raise by doing this project will go to the music programs to buy instruments, reeds, sheet music, valve oil and other equipment,” said Burtle, a member of the YHS band and choir. “We chose this project because we know that our school doesn’t have a lot of money, and recently lost the Vons eScrip program that provided a lot of funds for the music program.
Taylor, who plays clarinet, said she was inspired to take on the fundraising project because she has been in band since fifth grade, and music has played a huge part in her staying in school.
“When I was a sophomore in high school I found out that I had dyslexia and it really affected me,” Burtle explained. “It made me want to drop out of school and just give up, but band helped get me through it because I love music and even though I was having a hard time understanding a lot of other things I was able to understand music. Band gave me a reason to look forward to going to school each day, and because of the influence band had on me I never dropped out of school.”
Reynoso, who has been friends with Burtle since pre-school, plays the saxophone, French horn, and flute, and started her musical journey as a fifth grader at Bass Lake Elementary School. It was just a year later that she realized she wanted to be a music teacher - a goal she still has today.
“Being in band has been a great experience for me,” Reynoso said. “I have had great music teachers, and I want to give back, especially now with the school losing the eScrip funding.”
Burtle and Reynoso will be at Vons 12:30 - 5 p.m. This Saturday (Oct. 6) accepting donations for 150 homemade cupcakes and candy.
Raley’s eScrip program
Raley’s also started the eScrip program in 2001, changing the name to “Raley’s Extra Credit” in 2013. The program, set up through the Raley’s “Something Extra” loyalty program, has no intention of ending the program at this time. Once a shopper is enrolled in the program, they can select the organization (more than 30 listed), and the the percentage of the donation that Raley’s will donate to each non-profit in Oakhurst, North Fork, Ahwahnee, Coarsegold, Mariposa, and Wawona.
The organizations signed-up with Raley’s include seven Mountain Area churches, six YHS groups, Boy Scouts, and Sierra Mountain Little League.
Shoppers can enroll in the program in the store, or by going to raley’s.com.