When I read on a colleague’s Facebook account that her son wanted to dress as a Papa John’s slice of pizza, after someone from Papa John’s had visited his elementary school class, I felt the beginning of acid reflux doing its thing, as if I had consumed too much tomato sauce from any kind of pizza.
My colleague, who prepares wonderful and nutritious meals for her children, was not questioning in her post the presence of a Papa John’s mascot before impressionable elementary school children; she was sharing yet another observation about her children’s adventures in the world, allowing us to smile with her because kids really do say some of the darndest things.
In reply, I posted something about whether Papa John’s had an exclusive deal with the school or if the students’ taste buds could also experience Mellow Mushroom pizza. Then I remembered when a year ago a friend at work asked me to remind him to make a phone call to Papa John’s to order pizza for his son’s class.
“What do you mean, they are getting pizza?!” I told my friend, who at the time was bothered about having to incur yet another expense. “It’s for school, they get money,” he said, and I could sense in his voice the frustration of a parent having to participate in yet another required activity.
Now I am sure no parent is actually required to buy Papa John’s pizza for elementary school children. This is, after all, a free country that we live in. I decided to exercise my freedom by Googling “Papa John’s school fundraising.”
The results are terrifying. In addition to Papa John’s giving instructions on fundraising, numerous elementary school websites are reminding parents that Papa John’s will donate a certain amount of proceeds from pizzas purchased and parents should be sure to mention the school’s name, even the teacher’s, when they place their order.
Elementary school websites are encouraging contests, to see which class can raise the most money by presumably buying the most Papa John’s pizza. The reward, you guessed it, a Papa John’s pizza party for the winning class. I am certain no pressures are felt by any teachers or students’ parents as part of this prominent fundraiser that stares website visitors right in the face, along with the occasional mention of a school book reading program.
I am also sure that no child will be conditioned to purchase Papa John’s for life. Actually, I am hoping that some children will have eaten so much Papa John’s pizza that the thought of buying or eating any more ever, ever will make them feel ill and what is a cleverly planned marketing indoctrination program will backfire.
I should not mention Papa John’s as the only one putting its corporate tentacles into impressionable children. When I Googled Papa John’s and fundraising, searches for Dominos and Pizza Hut fundraisers were suggested to me. So everybody wants a slice of the action. Refreshingly and at the same time disgustingly, Papa John’s offers in-your-face advice that schools get in on the action: “Make sure your school gets a piece of the pie,” Papa John’s School Partnership Program webpage suggests, the combined challenge and admonishment printed in a white space where a slice of pizza has been removed from an entire pie, in case there is any doubt or it is not understood that the school will be missing out on money if it does not hustle to be sure those connected to the school purchase Papa John’s pizza.
The business of having parents buy pizza for their children’s class is particularly bizarre when one considers the many school children who are on free breakfast and lunch programs and the news that in the city where I live many may soon be put on a free breakfast, lunch, and dinner program. Clearly there is a disconnect somewhere in responsible fiscal management when children need to have three free meals a day at taxpayers’ expense and at the same time parents are urged to pony up for pizza.
Or even when “free” Papa John’s pizza is given out in the schools, does that by any chance translate to some of the parents purchasing pizza at home for a meal, the very same parents who cannot afford to feed their child or children breakfast, lunch, or dinner? I am sure that is not the case, as early brand consciousness and marketing have no effect at all and the sponsoring corporation is merely being benign by donating a part of its proceeds to the school.
I am a huge supporter of American free enterprise, a beneficiary of capitalism and consumer of all sorts of things that require my spending money, including trickle-down-economics now that I have been diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma so that I need to hire someone to mow my lawn, for years having taken pride in that part of the American Dream that means mowing your own lawn and edging to make it look at least as good as my neighbors’.
I am also a supporter of ethical behavior and while I begrudgingly have been educated that marketers sleep at night–even better when they have sold someone more pizza, cars, vinegar, printer’s ink–I ask after taking corporations to task for manipulating young children if the time has not come to hold schools responsible for having jumped on the pizza- or other bandwagon to put money into their coffers. It is time for schools to get on the wagon and yes, parents can just say no to schools panhandling with pizza.