You've heard of auctions and raffles and car washes and myriad other ways Oregon schools and parents are scrambling to raise money to pay for basic educational services.
But I can just about guarantee you've never heard of a fund-raiser like the one put together by the Family School in Eugene.
Parents and teachers and friends of the school are selling their blood plasma to raise money for next year's school budget.
The financial and other support just isn't coming from the district or the state or the national level in a meaningful way. It's a bizarre and poignant place we've come to, when we're reduced to donating our bodily fluids to support our schools. It's definitely our last stand.
Faced with losing one of five teachers in the five-grade, five-classroom school after Eugene School District 4J announced cuts for next year, desperate parents and staff held emergency meetings. They tried to figure how to squeeze children into too-small classrooms, or raise money to retain all five teachers.
At the meetings, says teacher Julie Barnas, "there were all kinds of fund-raising ideas . . . a silent auction and a raffle are being worked on." Last Friday night there was a spaghetti feed and a carnival. They had a bake sale.
But the district needs $73,000 to cover salary and administrative costs for a single teacher. "We realized all the bake sales in the world were not going to cut it," says parent Lorrie Burns, whose son is in second grade.
The Family School is an alternative school in the Eugene district that emphasizes hands-on learning in multi-age classrooms. "My son feels like the Family School is a family, where people look out for each other," says Lorrie. That kind of environment, and its small size, has spawned a powerful loyalty.
"We know we're not unique," says Catherine Flynn-Purvis, whose daughter is a student. "There are many schools going through the same thing. I think in affluent communities people know they have to get their checkbook out and write the biggest check they can to fund their schools." But for the Family School, "that's not an option."
They needed a big idea, and Lorrie Burns came up with it. "I thought, what can we do that shows we'll give our all for the school? Why don't we donate blood? Then I realized if we donated plasma, we'd actually get paid."
Lorrie called Aventis Bio-Services in Eugene. "I got hold of their manager and asked if it would be possible. It took him about a minute of dead air time and then he said, 'I think you have something there. We'll open on a Sunday for you.' "
"It's the first time we've ever been involved with a school," says Alf Moebius, the manager at Aventis. "But we were more than happy to; it's a win-win situation."
"I walked into the meeting that night thinking the other parents would think I was crazy," says Lorrie. She waited until all the tired fund-raising suggestions had been tossed around, then she rose and said, "I have an idea." "At first they just looked at me. I told them if we could get 50 parents, it could be $7,000 or more." The crowd burst into applause.
Volunteers got busy; posters were printed, T-shirts donated, volunteers recruited. And on April 13 more than 150 parents, teachers and students showed up at Aventis Bio-Services. Nobody under 18 could go inside, so activities had been planned for the children. Some kids marched curbside with signs, hoping to attract more donors. There were tables of food. The weather was sunny.
"Outside it was celebratory," says Catherine Burns. "Inside it was a little surreal. Many of us were looking at each other going, 'Can you believe we're doing this?' and 'Orwell left out this part.' "
One of the most dedicated parent volunteers had a fear of needles. "And yet there she was," says Catherine, "still trying to talk herself out of her fear.' "
Every teacher at the school showed up to be screened. "They give so much as it is," Catherine says. "The sweat and tears are not enough -- now it's got to be blood, too."
After the celebrations outside -- there were shouts and applause when each new name was called -- inside reality hit hard. "We didn't realize how difficult the screening process would be," says Beth Meyer, whose twin sons are second-graders. Beth and her husband were accepted, but most were not. "A nurse told us 60 percent get eliminated at the front counter." There were questionnaires, blood and urine tests, more questionnaires. Nearly everyone taking prescription drugs was eliminated; so were those who'd had certain surgeries, acupuncture or tattoos in the past year.
In the end, only about 15 of the volunteers were accepted. If they complete the process of donating five times, they could earn about $140 each for the school. Those who were rejected have vowed to find others to donate in their place. And Aventis will continue the program through this summer; anyone can give plasma and ask that the money be given to the Family School. (For info, call 541-683-9430 or go to www.plasmaservices.com. )
Family School supporters are not shy about asking strangers to give plasma to help their campaign. "The financial and other support just isn't coming from the district or the state or the national level in a meaningful way," says Catherine Burns. "It's a bizarre and poignant place we've come to, when we're reduced to donating our bodily fluids to support our schools. It's definitely our last stand."
Copyright 2003 The Oregonian