Parent-teacher associations have always operated on a shoestring budget. But Lowell Elementary School's shoestring just got a little fatter.
And the small grant the Lowell PTA was awarded recently is aimed at precisely that - fat.
Particularly, childhood obesity.
The PTA grant totaled $1,000, no small change to Lowell's teachers and parents, who aren't exactly swimming in money but who have a school garden that needs growing.
"Our vision was that this (garden) would be like any outdoor class, and that it would be a resource for almost any subject," said Sally Painter, parent of a Lowell fifth-grader and board member of the school's PTA.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of obesity among children ages 6 to 11 rose from 6.8 percent to 19.6 percent between 1980 to 2008, the most rapid increase of any age group.
In applying for the grant from the National PTA, Lowell realized its greatest resource was the Lowell Garden - one of the few school gardens in the Missoula County Public Schools district, and one that serves its own neighborhood.
The more children know about the food under their feet, the more they're likely to develop good eating and nutrition habits in the future, parents and teachers believed.
That's the thinking that won the PTA its grant.
"Many of them won't touch a vegetable until they've grown one themselves," said Kristy Luedecke, PTA vice-president and parent of two children.
More than three-quarters of the Lowell student population receives aid for free or reduced lunches. Nearly half officially live in poverty.
On Tuesday, Lowell will use some of its newly awarded funds to host an open house and party to celebrate its garden, and expose the community to good, clean (and aerobic) fun with demonstrations in gymnastics, martial arts and hula-hooping.
The party begins at 5:30 p.m. with a supper, followed by activities until around 8 p.m. The public is invited and encouraged to give to the school's anti-obesity efforts.
The address is Lowell Elementary, 1200 Sherwood St. For more information, call 543-2949.
Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.