By Tim Leeds
Shoppers at Gary & Leo's IGA in Havre can find coupons taped to the merchandise in the store. They have a choice once they get to the checkouts; "Do you want to use or donate your coupons?"
The program allows shoppers to donate the value of the coupon to local service or charitable organizations. Instead of having the coupon value taken off of the sale's total, the amount goes to whatever organization is using the program that quarter.
"I'd say it's about a 50-50 chance; some use them for themselves, some donate," Tracy Job said.
Job, manager of Gary & Leo's, said it's a good program for charities or service organizations to make some money for their projects. He said it takes a large effort, with a large number of people saving and cutting coupons and taping them to the merchandise, but it can be worth it.
"The money they make, like anything else, depends on the effort put into it," Job said.
Tom Mowen said the St. Paul Lutheran Church Youth Group used the program last summer and will use it again next spring to fund a trip to the National Lutheran Youth Convention in New Orleans next July.
"It's the easiest fund raiser there is, easiest from the standpoint of the dollars you get," he said.
Mowen said the youth group members, and their parents, got together regularly to clip, sort and tape the coupons.
"It's an ongoing, weekly effort during those three months," Mowen said.
He said it takes a lot of work, but it's worth it. He said that during their three months last summer they received more than $2,000 towards the trip.
Mowen said the group also used the program for two three-month segments several years ago, to fund a trip in 1998.
He said people contact him to get onto the list to use the coupon program. He said it's scheduled now through next September, which is pretty good.
"It's usually booked through a year or more," he said.
Job said the program is basically for non-profit or charitable programs, not just a general fund raiser. He said groups that have used the program are church youth groups, the Foursquare youth group, 4-H groups, Havre youth wrestling, youth hockey and youth basketball, Special Olympics and the senior center.
Job said some brands cannot be used in the program. He said, for example, Proctor and Gamble will not let their products be included. He said the company says it makes so many charitable donations every year anyway that it doesn't want to be included in that kind of activity.
Each group has the program for three months. It is up to the group to find, cut and sort the coupons, and tape them to the merchandise in the store. Job said the checkout operators should know which group is using the program at the time, and is should be listed at the checkouts.
The first project the program was used for was for the remodeling of the old Havre clinic into the Havre-Hill County Library. Library Director Bonnie Williamson said the Havre PEO gave them the idea, and they used the program for about a year, from about 1983 to 1984. She said they raised more than $60,000 through the program.
Antoinette "Toni" Hagener was one of the PEO members who helped with the project, and she said she's been involved with the coupons for several other groups since.
Hagener said Kay Elliott was the one who came up with the idea of clipping and taping the coupons for customers to donate. She said Elliott had seen it done to raise money for the hospital in Lewistown, and thought it would be good for the library in Havre.
"We started out through our PEO group thinking it would just be for a month or so," Hagener said. "It went so well, we did it for another month, then for six months, then more. ... We clipped a lot of coupons, a lot of coupons. That was a very impressive way to fund the library."
Williamson said they worked very hard on the coupon program for the library. She said the library staff looked for and saved coupons constantly, filling a box at the library.
"I think every one of the library staff saved every coupon we could find," she said.
They had many late nights of work cutting and sorting coupons, not to mention the time spent taping them to the merchandise, Williamson said.
She said they often worked at Kay Elliott's home, and Kay's husband, Dr. Jim Elliott, had many a story about the project. She said he would talk about coming home from work late at night and have to tip-toe through the piles of coupons to get to bed.
Williamson said they received a lot of help with the project, including from the PEO and the North Central Senior Citizens Center. She said it took a lot of effort, since the coupons have to be sorted into items and what aisle of merchandise they belong in before even going to the store.
She said they kept at the program, putting the money into the library reserve fund, until they had achieved their library goal of $385,000 to start remodeling the old clinic, which was donated by the doctors who owned it, including Elliott.
"Till we saw that we had enough money in the bank, we didn't give it up," Williamson said.
She said extra money from the coupons after the goal was reached was put into the Friends of the Library fund, some of which was used for furnishings for the library's meeting room. She said she thinks the Friends of the Library still has some of the money from the coupons in reserve in the bank.
Williamson said the next project the coupons were used for was The Bigger Better Barn at the Hill County Fairgrounds.
"They did pretty well, too; I really think they did," Williamson said. "They took it from us when we had no energy left. ... We put a darn lot of effort into it."
Williamson said the program might not be as strong these days because of the state's and the nation's economy. She said when they started, many people would donate the coupons. She said now, there are probably more people that need the savings and use the coupons. But, she said it is still an excellent program for groups in the community.