When schools participate in the Box Tops for Education program, they earn cash for a variety of needs, ranging from musical instruments and field trips to playgrounds and uniforms. At Pardes Jewish Day School, educators and parents are using the program to teach students about tikkun olam.

The goal of Pardes’ Box Tops program, now in its eighth year, is “to educate and empower the students to make a real positive difference for those less fortunate than themselves,” explains Vered Kogan, the parent Box Tops coordinator. By clipping Box Tops – the pink-and-white coupons that are worth 10 cents each and found on more than 240 products – Pardes students have raised money to donate to several charities over the years.

At the beginning of each year, the students are presented with information about different charitable organizations, explains Kogan, then after a classroom discussion, vote for the one they feel most passionate about. The charity with the highest number of votes receives the funds raised that year through the Box Tops collection. The school’s team of volunteers sorts, counts and sends the Box Tops coupons to General Mills, which sends the school a check. This year, the students voted to support the American Jewish World Service.

Last year, Pardes students voted to raise funds for the GO Campaign, a nonprofit that helps vulnerable and orphaned children around the world. Midway through the year, the students voted on which project they would focus on. They chose “Harvesting the Rain,” which aids the Kithoka Amani Community Home (KACH) in Meru, Kenya by installing a water-harvesting system to collect and store rainwater to help the farm produce enough food for the orphans living there, even during seasons of inadequate rainfall.

The students collected more than 4,000 Box Tops throughout the year, which allowed them to present a $400 check to Scott Fifer, founder of the GO Campaign, on Sept. 12 when he visited the Phoenix school.

Go Campaign box tops
Scott Fifer talks about GO Campaign, a nonprofit that helps vulnerable children around the world, during a presentation at Pardes Jewish Day School.
Photo by Becky Globokar

Fifer was a screenwriter, and before that an attorney, when he took a volunteer vacation to Africa in 2005. He ended up volunteering in an orphanage in Tanzania, an experience he shared with the Pardes students. “[The orphans] taught me a lot,” he said during the presentation, which included photographs and video clips. “They didn’t have a lot of things, but they were rich in spirit, rich in happiness.” After he returned to California, he couldn’t stop thinking about the children he met. “I wanted to help them,” he said.

Fifer shared his experience of forming the GO Campaign to be able to help those orphans and other children throughout the world. GO stands for “Giving Opportunity,” and the nonprofit is dedicated to supporting local heroes who are changing the lives of orphans and vulnerable children around the world. So far, the nonprofit, in partnership with grass-roots organizations, has given grants for 108 projects in 25 countries, according to its website, gocampaign.org.

After Fifer’s presentation to the lower grades, two third-graders, Andrew Bernstein and Jacob Wernick, approached him with their Rainbow Loom bracelets, made from colorful rubber bands, asking him to give them to the orphans during his next visit to Tanzania. “From there, bloomed the idea to involve our entire class and any other students who wanted to participate and make bracelets to donate,” says their teacher, Elaine Chapman.

“I want to donate bracelets to the GO Campaign because I want to try to help African children make money by selling the bracelets we are making for them,” says Bernstein. “We want to help them try to make a better life.”

So far, the students have made 94 bracelets, Chapman says, as well as an assortment of rings and necklaces. The class is also donating Rainbow Loom kits so the Tanzanian children can make their own bracelets to sell. The class’ goal is to collect 500 bracelets. (The school will collect bracelets until Dec. 1; call 480-991-9141 to participate.)

Students in grades 4-8 prepared for Fifer’s visit by selecting a cause they wanted to support and asked for his advice on how to do it. Fifer visited their classrooms to answer their questions.

Causes ranged from helping people with cancer and providing support for child abuse victims to providing medication for refugees from the Syrian civil war.

Seventh-graders discussed ways they could help homeless youth in Phoenix, which inspired one student, Brad Gordon, to collect shoes for CASS (Central Arizona Shelter Services), according to his teacher, Anna Lock. He and his mother purchased additional items from CASS’ wish list and delivered them to a shelter and he wants to start a drive among his fellow middle school students to collect more donations in the spring.

Additionally, fourth-grader Max Wiltchik requested donations for the GO Campaign instead of presents at his birthday party.

Apparently, Fifer was also inspired by the children during his visit. On his blog, he wrote, “[The students] taught me about tzedakah (justice) and tikkun olam (healing the world) and they asked me all about GO Campaign and philanthropy and how they can be better citizens of the world.”

At the conclusion of his presentation at Pardes, he told students that it’s “really terrific that you took your time and your effort and you thought about kids that you don’t even know and that you haven’t ever met and you’re going to help change their lives.”

This article first appeared in Jewish News of Greater Phoenix