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Safeway's eScrip change worries local schools

Published: Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 9:34 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 9:34 a.m.

Area school booster groups are bracing for an anticipated drop-off in revenues after grocery giant Safeway announced changes in how it donates funds through a popular fundraising program.

Beginning Nov. 1, Safeway purchases made with a credit card will no longer generate eScrip contributions to designated school groups. Purchases made with registered debit cards, checks, cash, Safeway gift cards, WIC and food stamps will continue to generate a percentage of the total receipt for registered school groups.

But the change could mean thousands of dollars lost from supporters who might either refuse to change their method of payment or who are unaware of the new rules, school support leaders said.

“We will have to educate our current parents as well as new parents how points are earned,” said Laura Rogers, a Rincon Valley Middle School mother who coordinates the campus eScrip fundraiser.

“It's free money so it's hard to complain,” she said. “For schools that are heavily reliant on it, it's going to be dramatic, but you can adjust.”

At Rincon Valley, donations from eScrip merchants totalled more than $12,800 in 2012 — upwards of $7,000 of which came from Safeway purchases. After eScrip's 15 percent administration fee is subtracted, the Falcons' parent boosters pulled in more than $10,800, said Rogers.

“It is a primary source of funding,” she said. “eScrip's main advantage is how easy it is. Everybody has to buy groceries. You are not asking someone to buy something they wouldn't normally buy.”

But now, leaders of some groups say, they will have to ask supporters to choose between perks offered by credit card companies such as airline miles or store credits, and supporting school groups.

EScrip keeps track of purchases at participating retailers and electronically transfers contributions to nonprofits based upon a percentage of sales.

Pleasanton-based Safeway said the grocery chain is burdened by credit card fees, so it eliminated that payment method as a way to generate eScrip funds. At the same time, it removed the existing $25,000 cap on groups for how much they can generate annually.

“Because ours is a business with razor-thin profit margins, it is difficult to make a donation from a sale when we also incur a high credit card transaction fee on that sale,” Safeway spokeswoman Teena Massingill wrote in an email.

Massingill would not disclose how many groups currently reach the $25,000 cap or what percentage of Safeway's eScrip funding is generated by credit card purchases, calling it “confidential company information.”

Officials from eScrip, a California-based corporation, did not respond to requests for comment on the story.

Safeway donated $20 million to education last year through eScrip and a total of $270 million since the program started in 1999, according to Massingill.

What the change means to boosters' coffers will not be clear until December when returns from November purchases are posted, area organizers said.

Many groups have begun a campaign to alert supporters of the change that only became public earlier this month.

“We budgeted $18,000,” said Kim Schroeder, a Bennett Valley School District mom who for years has helped coordinate the parent club eScrip program. “Safeway is probably 95 percent of that.”

“It's hard for us to know how much of our Safeway sales are credit card,” she said.

Windsor Schools PTA is listed as a top fundraiser among eScrip users, pulling in between $50,000 and $60,000 annually for classroom supplies, teacher projects and other expenses, said Dede Stanley, a Windsor mother who heads the program for the parent group.

“I have no idea what percentage of people actually use credit cards versus debit cards,” she said, adding that the group has already begun to send fliers home to parents, alerting them to the change.

“It will be interesting to see the report for November and December,” she said. “This might really be an impact.”

(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.)

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