The Van Buren Education Foundation has now given out over $1 million in grants to the Van Buren School District, an accomplishment that was celebrated Monday at the Fine Arts Center with the awarding of nine grants for a total of $20,000, a figure which pushed the organization over the seven-figure milestone.

“I’m excited that the Education Foundation can play a part in this community, which is excellence in education, but it was all done by a great team, a great board and a community that cares,” said Education Foundation Executive Director Debbie Thomas.

A crowd of just over 80 people attended the event, which began with the final nine grant applicants all on stage for the announcements. First came the winners of seven grants totaling $1,000 each. Those were awarded to Van Buren High School; Van Buren Freshman Academy; Butterfield Trail Middle School; King Elementary School; Rena Elementary School; Parkview Elementary School; and Central Elementary School.

After receiving their grant notifications, those recipients moved off to the side of the stage, leaving just two applicants - Tate and City Heights Elementary Schools - at center stage.

Foundation Vice-President David King then announced that the runner-up, and recipient of a $3,000 grant, was City Heights for its M.A.D.E. “Making a Difference Everyday” project, making Tate the winner of the $10,000 grant for its “From Farm to Fork” project.

“We’re thrilled,” said Tate kindergarten teacher Wendy Crawford. “We’re really excited to know what it’s going to mean to our school and to the kids that go there.”

The goal of Tate’s “From Farm to Fork” project is to create a healthier lifestyle among the students, to foster increased academic achievement and create a welcoming environment for the parents and community by renovating the cafeteria’s image to that of a farm to table environment.

“We’re revamping our cafeteria with a farmhouse theme,” said Crawford. “We have a huge garden in our backyard and we have some chickens. The eggs and the veggies that are produced out there actually go to our cafeteria. The cooks have used the eggs for breakfast and we have herbs that they go out and pick to use in the dishes they make.”

She continued, “We’re doing a ‘farm to fork’ theme since we have that connection out there and hopefully have our stage remodeled. We’ve outgrown our building, and so I think we can do a remodel that’s efficient, cutting into the stage where there’s some storage and extending the stage into steps. It’s the one room in the building that everybody utilizes. We even have people from the community who use that room — Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and 4H groups. A lot of the community comes into our building and this is the first thing they see, so it’s needed a facelift.”

Monday’s awards brings the foundation’s totals to 754 grants handed out at a total dollar amount of $1,014,636.

During the fall of the 2018-19 school year the foundation handed out almost $30,000 in funds to schools in the district to go with almost $18,000 in the spring and then the final $20,000 on Monday.

“We basically put a total of $50,000 plus into the classrooms every year,” Thomas said. “I remember one of my board members saying, ‘That teacher’s crying, and her check is only $500.’ And I said, ‘No, that’s a million dollars to her.’ Some of them may be small amounts, but they’re a million little things that have made a big difference.”

Summer Crabtree, a first-grade teacher at Tate, said the grants “give our children experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t get to receive.”