Wednesday 23 June 2010

Shopping for schools has become dodgy business in Cairns and Smithfield

Accusations of corruption and skulduggery are rife amongst cash-hungry and school-proud mums across Cairns, as two 'shop for school' campaigns draw to a close this week.

The Shop for Cairns' Kids campaign run by Cairns Central, and Scholar Dollars run by Smithfield Shopping Centre, are both community-focused promotions to financially support local primary schools. Both have been the target of suggested foul play and deceitful practices by participants.

Over the last month, school-loyal shoppers have been dropping off their store receipts by the hundreds so their local primary school can grab cash prizes of up to $10,000. Each time a customer makes a purchase at either shopping centre, their receipts gain ‘points’ for their nominated school.

Dexus, the managing company behind Smithfield, has had to intervene to change the rules and prevent some innovative, if not cheeky shoppers from presenting multiple shopping dockets, that didn't belong to them.

Desperate mum's and children have been stalking customers in the car park, asking for their receipts, outside Dan Murphy's Liquor on Friday nights, and and asking for their receipts.

"We found that a few schools were standing out in the carpark asking people for their receipts," Smithfield Centre marketing manager, Deborah McKilligan told CairnsBlog. "We felt that that was against the spirit of the competition. We saw that was soliciting people and so we amended the rules, as was our right. We informed all the schools to please not do that."

"To be fair, it wasn't against the conditions, more against the spirit. The schools that did that, had to be commended on their initiative. It's been interesting to watch the more competitive schools have really found different ways to go around and get people behind them," Deborah McKilligan said.

CairnsBlog can also reveal that some staff in supermarket chains Coles and Woolworths have been printing duplicate receipts and taking them to the customer service desk to boost their nominated school. Deborah McKilligan said they having been accepting duplicate shopping receipts. "We've also spoken to the supermarkets to make sure this doesn't happen."

Some schools have put street banners up in their neighbourhood, letterbox dropped, and even door-knocked every house in their suburb, encouraging shoppers to support them.

McKiligan is unsure if the campaign has increased revenue for local stores, however acknowledges the exercise has been a success on other levels.

"I think as a community engagement exercise, it's been quite good."A spokesperson from Cairns Central, says they haven't had many problems with the way people were participating in the campaign, however was aware of the tricks people play, and has tightened up the rules. Anna, who has run a similar campaign in another State, says she's seen it all before.

"The mum's and dad's get smart. They stand outside grab all the dockets from the mothers. However we worked a way through that so people didn't bring in a fist-full of dockets," Anna said. "Because the smart schools, that's the way to go."

The Smithfield promotion, which has run for 10 weeks, has Caravonica and Yorkeys Knob State schools neck in neck, with Trinity Anglican at Kewarra Beach, a distant third place. There's $10,000 up for grabs, with $2,500 and $1,000 for second and third places.

Taking the lead in Cairns Central is McDonnell Creek, followed by Bartle Frere; St Rita's Catholic; Aloomba; Kairi; Freshwater Christian; Alexandra Bay; Radiant Life; Machans Beach; and St Francis Xavier. A prize pool of $35,000 will be shared among the top ten.

A school principal on the Northern Beaches said the vigor of the campaign reflected to a degree, the tight economic climate that Cairns has been facing.

"I think people are finding it very difficult [financially] and even for funding extras at our school, it's impossible, so we see this in fund-raising," he said.

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