Safeway's eScrip change worries local schools

Area school booster groups are bracing for an anticipated drop-off in revenues after grocery giant Safeway announced changes in how it donates funds through a popular fundraising program.

Beginning Nov. 1, Safeway purchases made with a credit card will no longer generate eScrip contributions to designated school groups. Purchases made with registered debit cards, checks, cash, Safeway gift cards, WIC and food stamps will continue to generate a percentage of the total receipt for registered school groups.

But the change could mean thousands of dollars lost from supporters who might either refuse to change their method of payment or who are unaware of the new rules, school support leaders said.

"We will have to educate our current parents as well as new parents how points are earned," said Laura Rogers, a Rincon Valley Middle School mother who coordinates the campus eScrip fundraiser.

"It's free money so it's hard to complain," she said. "For schools that are heavily reliant on it, it's going to be dramatic, but you can adjust."

At Rincon Valley, donations from eScrip merchants totalled more than $12,800 in 2012 — upwards of $7,000 of which came from Safeway purchases. After eScrip's 15 percent administration fee is subtracted, the Falcons' parent boosters pulled in more than $10,800, said Rogers.

"It is a primary source of funding," she said. "eScrip's main advantage is how easy it is. Everybody has to buy groceries. You are not asking someone to buy something they wouldn't normally buy."

But now, leaders of some groups say, they will have to ask supporters to choose between perks offered by credit card companies such as airline miles or store credits, and supporting school groups.

EScrip keeps track of purchases at participating retailers and electronically transfers contributions to nonprofits based upon a percentage of sales.

Pleasanton-based Safeway said the grocery chain is burdened by credit card fees, so it eliminated that payment method as a way to generate eScrip funds. At the same time, it removed the existing $25,000 cap on groups for how much they can generate annually.

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