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The Trap of Fast Food Fundraisers

Tonight Brookside Elementary School will host a “McTeacher” night. Is hosting fundraisers at fast food restaurants a healthy way to raise money for schools or our local businesses?

Editor's Note: the McDonald's fundraising event for Brookside was a PTO-approved event, with the proceeds going to a school program that encourages positive behavior in students. The column has been clarified to reflect that.

McTeacher night is a school fundraiser with one focus: get as many families as possible to in a three-hour period while the teachers serve the children and school programs take home 10 to 15 percent of the profits. Wednesday night, focusing on , is not the first McTeacher night in Milford. There are many throughout the year for all the elementary schools in town.

Evidently, McTeacher nights are quite the money-maker. How would I know this? As a concerned health advocate for my community, I have been working for years to remove this fundraiser from the agendas. I have met individually with Brookside Principal Kathleen Kay and Milford Superintendent Robert Tremblay. I was told from both of them that it is not a school event (because it is after-hours), the teachers are volunteering their time and it is a huge financial success. Therefore, they leave it to the PTO’s discretion.

According to their website McDonald's serves 27 million Americans every day, one million more every year since 2003. Globally, McDonald's serves more than 47 million customers each day! McDonald’s serves 671 customers per second, every second of the day. And to think this is only the McDonald’s chain? Imagine factoring in all the other fast food chains.

America’s obesity rates are rising to epidemic proportions. The latest statistic from the U.S. Centers from Disease Control and Prevention states nearly 17 percent of U.S. kids and adolescents are obese. That's 12.5 million young Americans — nearly triple the obesity rate since 1980. Teenage Type II Diabesity and Cholesterol are skyrocketing and fast food is a known link.

A 2009 a Yale University study found that “40 percent of preschool-aged children ask to go to McDonald's on a weekly basis, 15 percent ask on a daily basis and 84 percent of parents say they've taken their children to eat fast food at least once in the past week."

Children under the age of 10 should consume less than 1,200 calories (less than 25 percent of them being fat calories), less than 4 grams of salt and less than 30 grams of sugar per day, according to the American Diabetic Association.

After reviewing the McDonald’s 23 page nutrition information pdf; I figured out a Happy Meal with a hamburger, fries, lowfat milk and sundae for dessert would add up to 880 calories (430 of them fat calories), 835 grams of sodium and 34 grams of sugar. If the parents or older siblings want bigger portions, the numbers were typically doubled. 

Parents may tell their children “NO” when asked to go to McDonald’s, but their schools are hosting fundraisers where the teacher will serve them a Happy Meal with a Smile? Regardless of whether someone “never” goes to McDonald’s and simply wants to support the school or this is their weekly convenience trip around sports, band practice and work, McTeacher night presents a huge conflicting message. 

The school system's Wellness Policy committee met last month to discuss the many ways to improve the school health focus. Milford’s Healthy Kids week was just last week. Milford’s Healthy Future’s Initiative has been meeting monthly to increase health awareness and programs throughout our community to include the today… but pulled in to the school parking lot yesterday for the meeting to see a "McTeacher Night" announcement on the school marquee.

The Health Happenings column is written to bring health to the forefront of Milford Patch readers’ minds. As a health coach and nurse practitioner, I've learned that one of the biggest obstacles people have in reaching health and weight goals is redirecting their meal habits. Many vent that they are “too busy” and “too tired” to make food. They are not sitting at a table with food cooked in their house but consuming fast food and packaged meals filled with additives. It breaks my heart to see school fundraisers add to this unhealthy eating trap.

As I was wrapping up writing this column, I received an email reminder from Middle School PTO about Friday's . UGH.

Assisting the community to break habits is tough. Eating fast food and hosting fundraisers with a focus on eating unhealthy foods are habits. Why not ask parents to send in $5 per child? At approximately 300 students per class we could raise $18,000.

Why not do a fundraiser that supports grassroots efforts or benefits the environment (like the one I helped spearhead with Stacy PTO three years ago selling steel water bottles and flower bulbs)? Finally, the fast food fundraisers do not support local businesses. There are family-owned fooderies in Milford who may be interested in hosting a fundraiser for the PTO. Is it possible? I don’t know. Would it be healthier? Maybe not. But it would keep the other 85 to 90 percent of the profits in Milford.

Myd Nevins April 25, 2012 at 09:05 PM
I'm just not understanding the controversy here. If you don't want to eat there, eat somewhere else. If you want to give money to the schools without eating there, give them a check. People are going to eat there no matter if there is a fund raiser going on or not. If people normally go Friday nights there and decide to switch to McTeacher night instead, thats nobody's business but theirs. You can declare McDonalds a full blown health hazard if you want. Not going to stop me from eating there once in awhile. The local non-chain restaurants are just as unhealthy. I see nothing wrong with the schools taking a an opportunity to get a small percentage of the money that will be spent anyways.
Interested Resident April 25, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Make no mistake, fast food companies wouldn't offer these fundraisers if they didn't make a lot of money off of them. When the school sends around this fundraiser it the "cost" is free advertising and an endorsement to these companies from our PTO. The companies get their name mentioned at school and in fliers in the kids backpack. I don't think it is horrible and I know families can resist this type of marketing, but I don't like it and would prefer that we just pay more taxes to fund school stuff, because I don't like that cost to our families. The fast food companies make enough money already without using the schools to advertise to our kids. People are fooling themselves if they think participating in these fundraisers is helping the town.
Mary MacDonald (Editor) April 25, 2012 at 09:30 PM
The debate here is similar to the one that happened about 10 years ago, when soda companies were being told, across the country, that they had to switch out the drinks in their vending machines. Coca-cola had an entire division devoted to the country's school vending machines, and getting districts to sign the contracts for them. The question I have is whether the Milford school system has a foundation that could collect money donations for school programs, rather than having all the PTOs do that work. Is it possible, really, to write a check for the school? I don't know.
Becks April 25, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Sorry, Debby. My last line was not a dig, I ran out of characters so was more direct. Was simply trying to say that while the original blogger was saying she spearheaded a light bulb fundraiser as an alternative means to raise funds for school, that sheet was not even considered in my house, and frankly, of the moms I spoke with, none of us ordered any. We have ordered cookie dough, butter braids, pies, etc, even tupperware, but no light bulbs. A few water bottles. But I know a lot more people buying food items/going to McDonalds nights. If you want to replace a McDonald's night with a diiferent fundraiser, fine. But it should be able to generate the same or more money- otherwise you are doing the schools a disservice. Also, as far as cake goes, between family parties and schoolmates birthdays, my kids see a lot more cake than they do chicken nuggets. And they are still making their way through their Easter candy. Food is a part of so many celebrations, and a lot of it can be vilified. I like the idea of a mom n pop business in town hosting an event, but the quick nature/turnaround time of a McDonalds, DQ or Papa Ginos is probably needed to handle the crowds because so many turn out for those events. And in the big picture, obviously funding our schools enough that these fundraisers wouldn't be necessary at all is a noble idea. But alas, I'm not going to hold my breath.
Interested Resident April 25, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Mary, it is easy enough to write a check to the PTO and address it to the PTO president. I don't know that they frequently solicit direct donations...I haven't gotten any requests except from the Milford Family Network PTO, which I'm happy to report I have donated to. The PTO is separate from the school, it is a parent let organization, but I suspect that you can send money to the school district directly and when the school committee meets they can publicly accept or deny the contribution.
Intentions April 26, 2012 at 01:45 AM
I cannot believe adults are acting in this way. What an example you are for your kids! To blast Lisa for making true statements and only wanting to help the community ...blows my mind!!! You should all be ashamed of yourself. I personally would like to see all fast food places wiped off the face of the earth!!!! If we stop supporting them then they will have no choice but to change for the better. in case you have not noticed... they have jumped on the healthy banned wagon( not my idea of health) so they see where the smart people are headed and want a piece of that market. They are taking your hard earned money and profiting fom it!!! The people who eat there on the other hand are then turning around and giving it to the insurance companies, doctors and drug companies!!! By the way the fast food chains have bought stock in the drug companies as well. I wonder why? So the easy and quick dinner is not so cheap in the end. I am a very busy working mother of 3 and i make having healthy food for my kids everday a priority!! Most of you busy people have non productive time that you could be doing the same....writing your comments is one example. Every where you turn...advocates including Michelle Obama are telling the kids to get up and move. Plus educating them to make better choices and then you choose this for a fundraiser.Do you know what McD sold when they first started??
Myd Nevins April 26, 2012 at 02:32 AM
No one here is suggesting you eat fast food every night. No one is even suggesting that the PTA does a fast food fund raiser every night. Once and awhile, eating or fundraising, is not going to hurt anyone. There are definitely a few people in this world that need to learn moderation, whether its in their eating habits or their preaching. I'm not arguing that. I'm arguing that McDonalds isn't the next antichrist. Though, I have to admit I find your little vendetta against all fast food restaurant amusing.
Intentions April 26, 2012 at 02:42 AM
It looked nothing like today. We need to get back to that way. If we keep going like this we will wipe ourselves off this planet!!! Cake in the classroom... Please....no comparison. It should not even be an issue. My kids eat sweets,but the difference is it is real food sweets...not the sweets that are so chemically filled they should be illegal! II am sure you yourself or someone you know is over wieight, have an auto immune disease, high blood pressure, chloresterol, thyroid and or cancer. I could go on and on,but I will stop because i have now stooped to your level. If you could look through all the bad comments and anger you would see that Lisa was looking out for YOUR children and the community!!!! I am sure her children are taken care of. There are so many other ways to raise money!!!
milfordman April 26, 2012 at 10:33 AM
Sorry, but I'm not a fan of the food nazis or parents who whine that it's McDonald's fault that their kids are fat. These restaurants who do this should be applauded for finding a fun way to give something back to the communities in which they do business.
Mary MacDonald (Editor) April 26, 2012 at 10:42 AM
And sorry, but I think you undermine your point when you take cheap shots at the writer, or other responders here, by calling them names. I edited the column and posted it. Several people have agreed with the points. Several haven't. It is possible to have a civil discussion here without using terms like "nazi" and "get a life."
Scientist April 26, 2012 at 12:07 PM
Absolutely, we all deserve our own choices! I also know that we if don't want near 100% of us to have diabetes, we have got to stop making certain choices. We are making choices to feed kids food that is initiates blood sugar dysfunction and atherosclerotic plaque in 13-year-olds! Food that we know starts the inflammatory that creates insulin resistance, then metabolic syndrome, then Type II diabetes in their 20s and 30s and 40s. What kids eat at 10 actually matters a great deal! It is too easy to fall into the trap of assuming kids are "just fine" with heavily-processed, sugar-laden, trans-fat-bearing, chemical-contaminated "food". Can we really as parents justify in our hearts falling for that approach with "convenience" and "well, we need the money" as a reason? Really? Kids do what we do, not what we say to do. Fundraisers should promote role models of activities we want kids to pursue, especially when respected teachers are involved. I appreciate deeply the efforts of all dedicated individuals on committees who work hard. We need everyone involved in creative, constructive brain-storming! To reverse the scientifically-founded prediction that this generation of kids will live shorter lives than their parents, we have to be willing to hold ourselves to new standards. I thank Lisa for provoking that discussion. Indeed, it is not always easy to hear. Few of us like to examine our habits and confront the prospect of change. But our kids deserve that change.
MilfordMomof3 April 26, 2012 at 12:10 PM
I agree with both sides here. We eat healthy as a family but did participate in the McDonald's night because my child really wanted to see the teachers working there. I do say no to the DQ nights that seem to come around for the schools often though. But I didn't see anything wrong with a special dinner for the kids this once. I think a bigger problem for the older kids(I saw middle school mentioned here and there) is that they are allowed to buy junk food at lunch. Yes the chips are the "healthier version" and the ice cream the "less sugar" version. Still junk. My daughter tells me that her friends throw out their lunch they bring and just buy cookies or chips. How about removing these from the school cafeterias before worrying over a once or twice a year fundraiser? I also see swarms of children get off of the buses and head right for the convenience store for soda, energy drinks and candy. Why is the school allowing these kids to leave school grounds when they came on the bus? Healthy eating habits including moderation need to be taught by the schools. I think Milford is years behind most surrounding towns in regards to these things.
carl berke April 26, 2012 at 01:59 PM
How about potluck dinners with a fee? We raised a lot of moenty for our schools in Vermont that way. We also ate new and tasty foods and they were all home made. Ever hear of "home made".Certain people here have idolized McD's and paraded them as good citizens. They are people and environment polluters. They have no "Intent to give back to their community"! How really puerile of you know who.
milfordman April 26, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Just about every restaurant in town offers similar opportunities for fundraising. They don't need to do it, it's just a nice way for them to support local programs. As someone who has participated in a few of these types of fundraisers, I appreciate that they are willing to do something like this. In the last year, I believe Papa Gino's, Dairy Queen, McDonald's, and Five Guys (these are just the ones I am aware of) have all had this type of fundraiser, often on multiple occasions for different organizations. And this is just one of many, many fundraisers these organizations have. One of the appeals of these restaurant fundraisers is that it requires relatively little effort from members of the non-profit, which is a welcome break. Everyone goes out to eat once in awhile. This type of thing allows you to do some good at the same time. PS Carl, you need a better thesaurus.
Interested Resident April 26, 2012 at 04:42 PM
That is a great idea Carl and sounds just plain fun too.
Bob Garber April 26, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Some of you are not getting it. McDonald's is NOT food. Just because they offer salads, does not mean the rest of the stuff is healthy. The salads are not that good anyways. Have you seen the movie "Super Size Me!" I believe they have shown it at the schools. Have you seen the websites showing their burgers and fries that are 10 years old. They look exactly as they did when you bought them, they do not rot or mold. Check some of the fries that are under your car seat. Here are some ideas for fundraisers: cigarettes, asbestos insulation and lead paint.
UglyHat April 26, 2012 at 06:12 PM
A lot of comments on this one, huh? I am with the PTO and the ‘mind-your-own business’ folks on this thread. Stop preaching ‘fast food is not food’ to me. I am perfectly capable of deciding what my kids can eat, be it for a fundraiser or because I don’t have time to cook, or just because I feel like it. If you don’t like fast food, don’t eat it. If you don’t like gasoline, ride a bike. Leave the rest of us alone. McDonalds and DQ are chosen for fundraisers because they work. They work because people enjoy themselves when they go there. It’s pretty simple. Some of these other ideas may work too, but it would have been good to bring them to the PTO before (not after) they announced their plans. This is kind of like the parents that complain to soccer coaches, but never volunteer to be the coach. Get involved and be helpful or keep quiet.
Mark Cain April 26, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Please don't tell me what we can and can't eat. Adults can teach their kids without you butting in. Mary, you have your own definition of free speech and it is not free. Let people comment for crying out loud without your bias opinion.
Mary MacDonald (Editor) April 26, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Patch sites are monitored.
Tammy April 26, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Wow-o.k.-I get it, you are perfectly capable of deciding what you and kids can eat, so can we all. I just wanted to say that this was a very informative article, very well written. My son who's 11 came home today from a field trip and he had 6 or 7 McDonald nutrition facts pamphlets in his hands. He was in shock reading it over. One of the breakfast items had 2150 mg of sodim in it. He then pointed out that vanilla shakes he and my daughter love so much had 64 grams of sugar for a small size. If a child 10 years or younger is suppossed to get less than 30 grams of sugar a day then that one small shake alone is more than double that amount and please don't tell me that that is the only sugar they are getting that day. If they ate at McDonalds then they got a lot more than the 64 grams of sugar. Take a look at one of these pamphlets and you may change your mind about holding a fundraiser at this fast food chain restaurant. I understand and applaude the teachers for working hard to raise the much needed money for the schools but I think utilizing local family owned businesses would be a much much better option. The 5$ per parent work for me but eating at McDonalds doesn't!!
Apathy is Annoying April 27, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Seems to me that the PTO and "mind your own business" folks are the same type of people who see no problem with their children having high cholesterol or giving their 10yr. olds shots of insulin for type II diabetes. I'd be interested in seeing how many of the people who attended this fundraiser would attend the same type of fundraiser held at say, a farmers market or local farm.
UglyHat April 27, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Yeah, you’re right. Because I don’t mind a Cheeseburger now and then means I hate farms and farmers and I want my kids to have diabetes. I might attend a fundraiser at a farmers market. I love the local farm stands. But that’s not really any of your business either. I don’t need your permission or blessing and I don’t care if you disapprove.
Apathy is Annoying April 27, 2012 at 01:23 AM
You're not getting the point of the article...It's not about anyone telling you what to do...its about teaching our children about nutrition and health and not sending them mixed messages by taking away their cookies in the caf and then asking them to go to McD's to support their school. It makes no sense and you're turning it into something it isn't. Lisa has every right to express her opinion in this forum as she has been proactive in trying to shift the focus of fundraising from unhealthy to healthy. How can you find fault in that?
Myd Nevins April 27, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Lisa is a great asset to the community. I think most of this discord here started not by her article but by the holier-than-thou commenters that go to extremes by declaring that all fastfood restaurants should be shut down and a mouthful of french fries will send every kid into cardiac arrest and every parent who allows a BigMac into the household shouldn't even raise kids. The extremism reminds me of a dietry version of the Framingham duo. I see fastfood family issues to basically comes down to the same things about sex education, child discipline, television limits for kids, etc... let each parent decide how to educate their own kids. When it comes to other people's kids, step aside and shut up and let their parents decide whats best for them. That includes what fund raisers to support or to pass on. Like I said before, if you don't approve of a particular fundraiser, just donate a different way. Its not like the school won't have a different themed fundraiser again later. Just don't preach to people who have different ideals in life that you.
UglyHat April 27, 2012 at 01:17 PM
I didn’t mind the article though I think it would have been nice to publish it after the fund raiser. I think Lisa does a fine community service though sometimes she’s a little over-the-top. I particularly liked her articles about pink slime and the CPR information. What I don’t like is when people (commenters in this case) change what is a good informational piece into a community judgment on others. People should have access to the information they need (and they do), and they should be free to make choices without ridicule. As far as mixed messages go, I actually find opportunity in that. As adults we get mixed messages all the time. The trick is to focus on information, not messages. Find the truth of the matter and make informed decisions. If children learn about mixed messages and how to deal with them, they’ll be much better prepared for adulthood.
diny April 27, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Thank you Ugly Hat! I want healthy kids but everything in moderation too. All this and slamming everyone. Unbelievable
Mary MacDonald (Editor) April 27, 2012 at 03:03 PM
I have posted an editor's note on the story and clarified some information in the column to reflect that the fundraiser for Brookside was a PTO-approved event, with the proceeds going to a school program that encourages positive behavior in students, rather than directly to the PTO.
carl berke April 27, 2012 at 04:08 PM
It seems that Fast Food brings "ou"t the worst in many of us, at both ends. Is that surprising? Gigo, garbage in, garbage out as we used to say about computers and fast food and certain other things. By the way, a certain person has no idea of "puerile" and is totally uniformed of the term "nazi". A nazi would like institutionalized fast food as long as the institution were contolled by the corporatist state. If you want to use any term, really use a dictionary or thesaurus that you so wimply criticize others by banging it on this site instead of using it for your own edification. Would that be a learning experience!
Lisa Vasile April 29, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Thank you to all who commented and for the many who emailed me. I would like to send a heartfelt apology to all PTO, teachers and committee members who offer their valuable time and amazing work for the school and town. It was never my intent to hurt feelings, “judge”, “preach”, “ridicule” or sabotage efforts. This is a HEALTH column, and whether people are eating fast food once a year or once a day; the evidence that fast food is not HEALTHY is still clear. Anyone who knows me; will vouch that my intent for offering information and volunteering my time in town HEALTH committees is to increase awareness with the hopes of decreasing illnesses which devastates so many families every day. Nowhere in the article did I “tell people” what to eat or state these facilities “should be shut down”, but cited the known fact that MOST of the choices at fast food places are higher in fat, calories, salt and sugar than food made in your kitchen. Many people commented that “moderation is key” and I agree 100%. Most of the schools in the district had their own McTeacher, Papa Gino, 5 Guys, BK and/or DQ nights. If the families had students in different schools and wanted to support the fundraisers, this would exceed the definition of “moderation” for HEALTH standards. cont...
Lisa Vasile April 29, 2012 at 02:20 PM
It is a conflicting message to the students when teachers are educating them in school to decrease fast food to a minimum, nurses are measuring their BMI’s and then the students are receiving flyers and encouragement to go to a fast food restaurant (and with McTeacher night teachers are handing them the fast food). The column is named “The Trap of Fast Food Fundraising” because as many commented, these fundraisers make the most amount of money, it is easy and people will attend; herein lies the “Trap”- financial and HEALTH. To answer the inquiry about the success of the flower bulb/steel water bottle fundraiser at MSE; it raised $1800. I looked at the PTO calendars on the school website and was unable to find the PTO meetings listed for all of the schools and grateful to the person who posted the next Stacy PTO meeting. I hope that when attending this meeting or other committee meetings in town, I (or anyone else who was inspired to participate - which was the objective of this article) will be welcomed.

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