Rosauers, School Aid, spin gold from harvest

October 30, 2011

Who knew $60,000 in cash would be found in a small wooden bin tucked amongst the produce department at Rosauers.

Most people, even those picking fruit to buy from the School Aid container, walk on not ever realizing the treasure that has grown from the unassuming hand-built fundraising bin.

The bin's magic, which turns fruit into gold for school music and art programs, began with an idea from the owner of Mt. Hood Organic Farms and a willing business partner - Rosauers.

Since the inception of School Aid Charitable Trust 10 years ago, those sixty-thousand dollars have been donated back to local schools - all a result of Rosauers customers choosing fruit that comes with a hidden bonus.

The idea is a simple one: Create a year-round source of income for under-funded music and arts programs connecting the bounty of delicious, organically grown fruit in the Hood River Valley with customers hungry for a healthy treat.

"I feel really grateful," said Hood River Middle School music teacher Rebecca Nederhiser, whose music program students are recipients of School Aid funds. "I've been amazed at the generosity of everyone involved, Mt. Hood Organic Farms, Rosauers and the community buying the fruit."

"It's a big shot in the arm for funding of the school music programs," said Wy'east Middle School music teacher, Dennis Hillen.

And the steps to the program's success?

Rosauers invests by managing the fruit and selling it alongside its regular produce - giving up income from the fruit sold.

Mt. Hood Organic Farms provides its own fruit, free of charge, as it is available, for about five months out of each year.

A small portion of sales from the MHOF fruit sold at Rosauers is held in an account by the School Aid Charitable Trust to purchase organic fruit from other growers when their own supply runs out, ensuring year-round availability to buyers.

Local buyers choose fruit that is provided to Rosauers specifically for the fundraising effort, enjoying delicious and affordable organic selections.

The full value of the fruit sold is then returned by Rosauers to the School Aid Charitable Trust which in turn, distributes funds back to local schools.

School music programs, including those at Hood River Middle School, Hood River Valley High School and Wy'east Middle School, receive needed funds for instrument repairs and purchases, performance costs and field trips.

Community audiences and parents enjoy concerts by students who have improved instrument access, training opportunities and performance cost help.

In particular, the annual HRVHS musical (this year's "Avalon," opening Nov. 4) is able to create costumes and build sets as a result of School Aid funding.

"We really believe in investing in our city - our community," said new Rosauers Store Manager Steve Morgan. "Music is such a huge part of education."

Produce Manager Jim DeLong, who has supported the program since its beginning at Rosauers, acknowledges that many people behind the scenes make it work.

"We have seven guys here in produce that keep that bin filled with product," he said. "It is vital to the community and we have to make sure it happens. Success starts with us. We just want more people to know about it."

A pretty nifty way to "produce" donations for schools. But the happy returns don't stop there.

Encouraging young people and nonprofits in the fine art of hard work and fundraising is part of the Mt. Hood Organic Farms' philosophy. The company furthers this goal by also providing fresh fruit directly to school kids and organizations willing to come to the farm and bag it.

Once bagged, the fresh fruit can then be sold by the recipients within their communities through direct sales, allowing them to keep all the monies collected.

A group of Nederhiser's music students visited MHOF on Oct. 25 to bag up some fresh red Anjou pears for a fundraiser sale.

When the school kids arrived, they joined a team of adult baggers from a nonprofit in Portland. School Aid also works with three stores in Portland and several schools and nonprofits, offering the same charitable support.

The added bonus, according to the MHOF owner and founder of School Aid (who prefers to remain anonymous), is that visitors to the farm gain a connection to the land, fruit and history of the Valley, along with dollars to bring home to help their organizations.

And, the dollars have been significant. Totaling up all the donations across Hood River and Portland, the charity, and its grocery partners including Rosauers, has supplied more than $250,000 in funding to nonprofits and schools over 10 years.

"Our budgets have dwindled to almost nothing, while the number of music students continues to rise," said Mark Steighner, HRVHS music director.

"Thanks to the School Aid program, we have been able to fund our fall musical, which receives no funding from the school beyond what we raise in ticket sales, sponsors and advertising.

"Without Rosauers' School Aid, we would most likely have to charge students a participation fee, which would certainly limit the number of students who can be involved," he said.

Direct donations. Direct results. Those are the goals School Aid and Rosauers have sought to produce in their partnership to sustain music and the arts in our community.

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