WHITING | All Whiting public school students stand to benefit from an innovative new program that began as a joint effort between Nathan Hale Elementary School and the Strack & Van Til grocery store in Whiting.
The store, 1836 Calumet Ave., already has in place a policy in which shoppers who bring reusable bags to pack their groceries receive 5 cents for each bag used.
Now the school system will benefit from that practice.
Nathan Hale kindergarten teacher Naomi Irvine applied to the Whiting Education Foundation for a grant to begin a project called Three R's — reduce, recycle, reuse.
Parents and community members who present key-chain cards can now donate the 5 cents for each reusable bag to the foundation.
"The money goes toward scholarships for our graduating seniors and projects, classroom projects, and teacher grants to support professional development," Irvine said.
Part of the $500 grant Irvine received went toward buying the key-chain cards.
Irvine, in her sixth year at Nathan Hale, said recycling is already encouraged in Whiting public schools. Students at the elementary, middle and high schools recently competed to see which school could collect the most plastic lids.
Irvine sees the 3 R's project as another way to teach students about the need to be environmentally friendly.
"It's not only about reading, writing and arithmetic,'' Irvine said. "It's about taking care of our earth."
Irvine and students from the School City of Whiting kicked off the 3 R's project Saturday morning at the grocery store by handing out literature and encouraging shoppers to use reusable bags.
Nathan Hale Principal Penny Banfield said Whiting has helped out by donating reusable bags to get the program started.
"We're just really excited about this because our kids are very into the notion of recycling and they understand that we have an obligation to take care of the planet," Banfield said. "And we believe the earlier we get them educated about that, the better off we all are going to be."
Banfield said the key-chain cards are being given to parents of students. Other community members who shop at the Whiting store can contact Nathan Hale Elementary School at (219) 659-0738 to obtain a key-chain card for free.
Store manager David Pierce worked with Irvine to set up the partnership with the schools. The agreement is for one year, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will end there, he said.
"I actually hope that it blossoms into something that Strack & Van Til as a company will do company-wide with the school districts in the areas of the other stores," Pierce said.
Pierce said he had never heard of a similar program when Irvine presented him with her plan and he thought it was a phenomenal idea.
"As a company, we are just rolling out a new energy awareness program, and it ties right in with what we're trying to do with helping the environment, reducing energy costs, recycling," he said.
Pierce said Strack & Van Til could benefit from a broadened customer base as a result of the partnership and that the money it would have spent on bags can now go toward local schools.
"When you funnel the money into one spot as we're doing with this, you know, those nickels add up real fast," he said.