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Help fund schools when you shop at local grocery stores

If you don't have a child in school, you may not be aware that you can give financial support to your local schools just by going grocery shopping. It won't cost you an additional cent.

When you buy groceries, just collect box tops or link a store card to the school of your choice, and you can provide financial assistance.

A school may earn up to $20,000 a year through Box Tops for Education, a General Mills program. Just collect box tops from certain products, give them to a neighborhood school and they will turn them in for cash.

Box Tops for Education have helped America's schools earn more than $300 million since 1996. According to PTA President Geneva Greene, Hawk Ridge Elementary School earned $2,900 last year through the box top program and $1,300 so far this year.

Many schools participate in various programs including Bi-Lo's boostersplus program. Individual schools, having set up the program with Bi-Lo, distribute enrollment cards to supporters. As a supporter, you can take the enrollment card and your Bi-Lo bonus card to a Bi-Lo cashier for an annual one-time scan. One percent of your purchases will be accredited to the enrolled school through May 31. You can sign up again at the beginning of the next school year.

You can also participate in Harris Teeter's Together in Education program. Just link your Harris Teeter VIC card to the school of your choice. The program serves schools (public or private, preschool through 12th grade) in your community. Choose up to five schools, which are linked to your VIC card until May 31.

When you purchase select Harris Teeter brand products using your VIC card, Harris Teeter contributes a percentage of those purchase dollars.

In 2009, Harris Teeter gave $1.4 million to community schools. In addition to the Harris Teeter brand items that qualify for the program, Harris Teeter has added prescriptions. A percentage of each prescription filled in its pharmacy will be donated to the schools linked to your VIC card.

Harris Teeter also is a participant in the Upromise college savings program. You can receive up to 5 percent of select purchases back as college savings for your child or any other child. There is no cost; just sign up.

Target invites you to participate in their program, "Take Charge of Education." Target will donate up to 1 percent of your purchases to the eligible school of your choice. Every September, Target pays donations directly to the school principal.

"We receive money from the everyday use of Harris Teeter VIC cards, BI-Lo cards and Target cards," said Greene. "And for the more parents who sign up with their VIC cards, we get a bonus. Last year, Hawk Ridge Elementary received around $2,000."

Schools may use the money on anything from basic supplies to band equipment or computers.

So next time you visit your grocer or other retailer, ask if they participate in a program that supports local schools. It's a great way for friends, neighbors, parents and grandparents to help.