Ortega Elementary's Citrus Fundraiser: Past, present, and future

In early 2014 Alejandra Mireles, a teacher at Ortega Elementary in East Austin, came to SFC with two questions; “Why aren’t we promoting healthful foods through school fundraisers?” and “What can we do about it?”. We put our heads together to consider school nutrition goals and SFC resources, from which the Citrus Fundraiser was born!

This is Ortega Elementary’s fourth year to partner with SFC and Dave Strohmeyer at G&S Groves in McAllen, Texas to raise much-needed school funds by selling organic Valencia Oranges. Recently, we sat down with Alejandra to discuss her experience running the Citrus Fundraiser, and where she sees it going.

SFC: How did you get the idea for the Citrus Fundraiser?

AM: We used to participate in the McTeacher night. Some fellow teachers and I were uncomfortable teaching nutrition during the day, then sending the kids to eat fast food. It was clear we needed a different way to raise money for the school, one that aligned more closely with nutrition goals of the school district (AISD). I reached out to SFC and other local partners with the idea of a healthy school fundraiser and SFC got G&S Groves on board.

SFC: How has your partnership with SFC helped you with the fundraiser?

AM: There can be a lot of behind-the-scenes work to manage for a full-time teacher like myself, and for the first few years, Sustainable Food Center was an important part of keeping me organized and feeling supported. As I’ve become more experienced running the Citrus Fundraiser, SFC has really supported me in taking the lead on this project. Throughout the life of the fundraiser, they have helped tremendously with promotion - from help writing press releases, to creating posters and flyers for students to take home, to frequent shout-outs on their social media and other communication channels.

SFC: What are you hoping sales will be this year, and what is the money raised typically used for?

AM: This year we hope to realistically sell $1,000 of citrus. The money raised for the school is divided up between each grade levels and is used to help provide educational field trips for the students. It may not sound like much, but the funds raised really can close a financial gap for these fun excursions by paying for things like bust transportation or group entrance fees.

SFC: What has been the response from the students, teachers, and community?

AM: The students seem to really enjoy the Citrus Fundraiser. It brings out the natural entrepreneurs among them. The older students learn more about finance and budgeting, so it also integrates really well with some of the non-nutrition based curriculum that we teach. The teachers and administrative staff have all been essential to getting student and community involvement, which increases every year. As for the community, every year more and more community members have gotten involved. This year, I had more than a handful of parents asking me when the Citrus Fundraiser starts. The parents have been very excited and involved in the fundraiser across all grade levels.

SFC: What have been some challenges you have faced in running the Citrus Fundraiser?

AM: The main challenges with the Citrus Fundraiser surround the fact that it’s still a new grassroots operation. School administrators have always been supportive of the fundraiser, but determining their roles in it has been an ongoing process. Additionally, troubleshooting operations has taken some time, but I think we’ve figured out a format that works for the students and staff, and is scalable.

SFC: What, if any, additional partners would you like to engage with the Citrus Fundraiser in future years?

AM: I would love to engage the school district (AISD) in the future. This project has a lot of potential, and aligns with the district’s clean label and broader child nutrition goals. Additionally, I see opportunities to further engage with small, local businesses in the Austin and Ortega Elementary community.

SFC: What do you enjoy most about the Citrus Fundraiser?

AM: I love the fact that it promotes healthy eating practices while supporting sustainable, organic agriculture. These days there is a real disconnect as to where our food comes from, and the Citrus Fundraiser gives students a direct connection to the farmer. This engages the students, the school, and the community in sustainable agriculture and healthy eating while raising needed funds for the school.

The 4th annual Citrus Fundraiser closed on December 1st, and you’ll be pleased to hear that the students sold a whopping $3,810 this year. This blew Alejandra’s goal of $1,000 out of the water! Although “troubleshooting operations has taken some time”, it looks like she’s finally found the right formula. If you were lucky enough to purchase a bag of citrus this year, don’t forget pick up is on December 14th and 15th.

We look forward to the future growth and success of the Citrus Fundraiser, and want to issue a warm “Thank you” to all of the students, faculty, and community members who helped make this year’s Citrus Fundraiser so successful!