"Betty Boxtops" isn't the most glamorous nickname in the world, but Betty Moulton is a star at LaVerna Evans School in O'Fallon.
The teacher's aide runs a program that has raised nearly $20,000 in the past seven years. Students, staff and parents collect boxtops from cereal boxes and other product packaging and redeem them for cash.
Betty is assisted by four fifth-graders known as The Boxtoppers. They come in before school to empty collection bins, trim boxtops, check expiration dates and organize shipments.
"I just like to help my school be a better place for kids to learn," said Shaun Riley, 10, who was wearing a turquoise T-shirt from Boxtop University, an annual conference that Betty attends.
Shaun was going from room to room with Andrew Boone, 10, Maddy Vorce, 10, and Raniyah Shannon, 11. They delivered candy and other prizes to classes for submitting boxtops.
A student must make good grades and show strong character to be a boxtopper, so it's a prestigious position.
"We've had some kindergartners say, 'We want to be a boxtop helper when we grow up,'" Maddy said.
Meanwhile, Betty was back at Boxtop Headquarters, outside Joyce Ringdahl's classroom, where she helps students with learning disabilities.
Periodically, other students stop by to deliver boxtops and open Betty's desk drawer to grab a treat.
"I love the kids," said Betty, 54, of O'Fallon. "I've always wanted to be a teacher. (The boxtop fundraiser) is a lot of fun, and it's just a way I can help the school. You hear about the extreme couponers? We'll I'm an extreme boxtopper."
The LaVerna Evans fundraiser is part of a national program called Boxtops for Education, sponsored by General Mills. Most boxtops can be redeemed for 10 cents each.
"This is the easiest fundraiser ever," Betty said. "I tell parents, 'You don't have to make anything, sell anything, cook anything or buy anything. All you have to do is look around your house for things with boxtops and send them in.'"
The program has filled a void, as proceeds have dropped from fundraisers that involve sales of wrapping paper, candles, cookie dough and other items.
Boxtops helped pay for a new public address system and an outdoor walking trail and brought professional authors in for assemblies.
"In this culture of less funding available, it's important that we look to other sources," said Principal Ryan Keller. "(The boxtop fundraiser) doesn't cost any money, and that's rare. ... If everybody in our community would just tap into what normally goes into the trash, that would be fabulous."
Betty has lived in the metro-east off and on since the late '90s and worked at LaVerna Evans since 2003. Her husband, Chris, is a retired Air Force colonel. They have two grown children, Aaron and Caitlin.
Betty took over the boxtop fundraiser in 2006, when the former coordinator's children graduated.
Today, it's not unusual for people to call her Betty Boxtops in grocery stores and other public places.
"The funniest story was when I went in for my colonoscopy," she said. "I was on the table, and I was going under (anesthetic), and they rolled me over onto my side, and the nurse walked in and said, 'Hey, it's Betty Boxtops!' Her son was a student here."
People in the LaVerna Evans neighborhood also have jumped on the bandwagon and have begun dropping off boxtops.
They've come from the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Cuba, where Betty's son is working on his dissertation.
"It's crazy," said Doris Whiteman, 61, of O'Fallon, a cook's helper at the school. "My 80-year-old aunt is making my 80-year-old uncle eat stuff so we can get the boxtops. And my 94-year-old aunt sends them from Gardner, Illinois."
Doris is a crafter who crochets scarves and makes bracelets to be given away as prizes for boxtop competitions.
"Whatever Betty needs, I make," she said. "This summer, I got a shot in my knees (for arthritis), so I sat all day and made hair bows."
Besides boxtops, Betty's other hobby is rooting for her alma mater, Auburn University in Alabama. She's president of the St. Louis Auburn Club.
Betty often wears blue and orange, the college colors, to school and sometimes paints her fingernails to match.
"Last year, we had a terrible year," she said. "We lost almost every (football) game. We were stinky. This year, we're doing much better. We just beat Texas A&M. We were national champions in 2010."