Ortega Elementary School sells oranges instead of candy or cookies to raise money for fund-raisers. Photo courtesy Ortega Elementary School

I’m a big fan of the annual citrus fundraiser at Ortega Elementary School.

Instead of peddling chocolate bars, cookies or caramel corn, students at the school sell 20-pound bags of organic valencia oranges from the Rio Grande Valley.

I’m partial. I worked in McAllen for seven years, and lived in nearby Mission, between an onion field and a citrus grove. I always had fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice on hand. It’s the best.

Students who participated in last year’s citrus fund-raiser at Ortega Elementary School got to visit the Sustainable Food Center. Photo courtesy Ortega Elementary School

More importantly, I heartily approve of the idea of selling something healthy to eat, rather than junk. It’s a philosophy that’s important to staffers – and students – at the school, too.

“We promote and model healthy living habits during school,” says teacher Alejandra Mireles. “Teachers give weekly health lessons and our campus participates in the national CatchUSA program to promote physical health. We wanted to create a fundraiser aligned with these values.”

The school partnered with the Sustainable Food Center, a community organization promoting healthy food in schools for the project. Deputy Director Andrew Smiley says the fund-raiser perfectly aligns with the center’s mission of cultivating a healthy community, and he hopes it serves as a model for schools throughout Austin.

Student Alex Rodriguez likes the idea, too.

“Chocolate has too much sugar, and we could make more money selling fruit because it’s healthier and better for you,” Rodriguez says.He hopes money raised through the fund-raiser will fund a trip to The Thinkery Children’s Museum.

The oranges sell for $10 a bag and the school makes 50 percent profit on each sack. Orders will be accepted through Dec. 2. Pickup is between 2 and 4 p.m. Dec. 19 and 20 at the school, 1135 Garland Avenue. To order online go here.