Van Buren School District Education Foundation held its annual kick off luncheon Tuesday to mark the start of the fund-raising year.

A lunch catered by Longhorn Steakhouse and served by Van Buren Junior ROTC cadets was held Tuesday at Heritage United Methodist Church for foundation benefactors, with pledges totaling $49,500 being made that day.

VBSD Education Foundation has presented more than $700,000 in grants to educators in the school district during the past 13 years.

"Go back 13 years and think about how many children have been impacted, how many kids have gotten to do things they wouldn’t have been able to do," said VBSD Superintendent Merle Dickerson as he spoke to attendees during the event.

"I can go on and on about the experiences and the things this foundation has made possible," he said.

Heritage pastor Wes Hilliard spoke on the collaboration between churches, schools and businesses in Van Buren, which was reiterated by Mayor Bob Freeman during his speech after lunch.

"What’s great is that we come together, and everyone comes out as winners," Freeman said.

Dickerson also spoke on the support in Van Buren for children and education.

"It’s a special community and from our perspective, it’s a community that loves children and wants to do the very best for our schoolchildren," Dickerson said.

Certified staff apply for the grant money by writing up original and creative ideas that help children learn. One such idea was "Brag Tags," paid for with a $357 grant presented to first grade Rena Elementary teacher Jill Haley.

Brag Tags are a motivational system that gives students the opportunity to earn the tags - which feature slogans such as "Great Job!" and "Number One!" - for special efforts in reading, math, writing, science, social studies and character education.

Another grant was presented last year to Jessica Fisher, Van Buren High School theater instructor. Her students were able to use their $2,500 grant to travel to the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland to showcase their production of "Snoopy! The Musical."

During the early section of the event Tuesday, Brandon Jeremiah, a theater student who played Charlie Brown in the musical, showed his gratitude to donors.

"Without this grant we wouldn’t have even had the royalties to perform, so thank you," Jeremiah said.

Eight donation pledges were made during the event, the largest being $12,000 from VBSD employees that came from payroll deductions.

Other donors were Crawford County Healthcare and Rehabilitation, and Experian, giving $10,000 each; Citizens Bank & Trust Co., which donated $5,000; and Jimmy Bell Real Estate, Bank of the Ozarks, Richard and Helen Hodo, US Bank and Crawford Construction, which donated $2,500 each.