Since it was established in 2000, the Park Rapids Education and Activities Foundation has supported the local schools’ education, arts and athletics programs to the tune of more than $640,000.

The most recent round of PREAF funds, totaling almost $17,000, was allocated to equipment for girls tennis, practice jerseys for high school football, balls for junior high volleyball, FFA jackets, BPA registration, Senior Slam, high school weight room equipment and classroom supplies requested by three teachers.

Last year, the foundation provided $35,000 worth of similar aid.

PREAF President Steph Carlson and Treasurer Lisa Koppelman shared their feelings about what the foundation has achieved, and continues to achieve.

“With the tight budgets in the schools, and all the different desires and needs,” Carlson said, “it’s just a way to assist.”

Koppelman said she values it as “a way to volunteer” and support the schools.

Carlson said the foundation was started 20 years ago in response to the increase costs of supplies, primarily for athletics. “Everyone was going out and trying to raise money,” she said. “The whole (premise) was, if you have something like the foundation, that maybe will cut down on some of the individual fundraising from these athletic teams, and people won’t be getting hit up constantly from every team and every organization.”

The nonprofit raises funds partly through its annual membership drive, which was extended this year through June 30 to accommodate members who have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Membership opportunities include a variety of levels based on the amount given. “Last year, we had just over 100 members at all different levels,” said Koppelman, adding that benefits of membership include passes to athletic activities and fine arts events, gift certificates to the Panther Store and advertising space.

“The foundation also does the athletic programs at all the varsity events,” said Carlson, adding that it also sponsors the school district’s 12-month calendar.

Memberships tend to come in all summer long, Koppelman said, but those who chip in by June 30 will be recognized by name in this year’s athletic program.

Also, she noted, PREAF has enjoyed success in recent years selling frozen potato products donated by Lamb Weston/RDO Frozen. If the company agrees to donate again this year, Carlson said, the sale will probably be in mid-November.

“That’s been a really neat partnership,” she said. “We’re proud about that.”

Carlson explained that the foundation’s allocation committee meets three times a year – in September, February and May – to look at grant requests submitted by the schools’ teachers and coaches and decide which requests they can fulfill.

“There’s not a lot of requests that we don’t grant,” she said. “We’ve been very fortunate that way.”

As a Park Rapids High School alum, Carlson said, “I challenge the alumni to look into this and find a membership level that they could help with.”

To obtain a membership form, visit any Park Rapids school office, Citizens National Bank or www.parkrapids.k12.mn.us under the Community tab. Donations can be mailed to PREAF at PO Box 211, Park Rapids, MN 56470.

For more information, call Carlson at 252-1597 or Koppelman at 237-4545, or email preafoundation@gmail.com.