In an age where budget cuts are not the exception but the rule, local educators are flocking to The Educator Warehouse.
Born of a partnership among the Forsyth Education Partnership, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County (WSFC) PTA Council, the warehouse is a free resource where teachers can “shop” four times a year for much needed school supplies — everything from pencils and paper to calculators, bookbags and textbooks. The items are given points depending on value and each teacher is allotted 25 points per quarter to spend. It adds up to as much as $800 worth of supplies per teacher per year.
Deena Dreyfuss, a member of the WSFC PTA Council and former Forsyth Education Partnership president, says the warehouse is an increasingly valuable resource for teachers, who spend an average of $500 – $700 out of pocket on school supplies each year.
“When they do the budget meetings … every year, I’ve seen more and more programs and expenditures being cut. There is no money for staff development, much less school supplies,” said the mother of two. “In my 11 years of being here (in Winston-Salem), I’ve seen the amount of money that the school system can provide for school supplies drop dramatically.”
As funding for teachers and public education continues to shrink, the warehouse is working to bridge the gap for students who might otherwise go without and their teachers, said Director Karel Chandler.
“We want teachers to know that somebody actually cares about them. Right now, I don’t think that they know anybody cares, and so we’re trying to do something for them,” she commented. “…I just think that every teacher needs support and every child needs the opportunity to at least be able to start the day on a level playing field.”
Now in its third year, the warehouse, which is housed on the campus of Diggs-Latham Elementary School, is modeled after similar programs in Greensboro, Burlington and Charlotte and bolstered by the lessons its small staff of volunteers have learned along the way, Chandler said.
“When we opened in August of 2011, we literally opened on a wing and a prayer. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing,” she stated. “…It’s been very rewarding. It’s nice to (know) that we can do something, that we can give back a little bit to the teachers.”
The project is gearing up for its busiest time of year: the back-to-school season. The volunteer-run initiative will open its doors to nearly 300 teachers during a special back-to-school event from Aug. 15–17. The program has been well received by teachers and local donors — who range from big corporations to retiring educators — alike.
“Everybody loves it; everybody’s crazy about it,” said Chandler, who has led the initiative since 2011.
The program shares a 16 room pod at Diggs-Latham with the PTA Council. The school system had purchased the facility to house students during the school’s renovation several years ago, and donated the space to the two groups. The warehouse currently occupies 14 classrooms. The school system covers the utilities and maintenance of the building. One thousand thirty teachers shopped in the warehouse in spring 2013 alone, and community awareness continues to grow, Dreyfuss said.
“It’s exceeded our expectations by far,” she said of the project. “When we started, we had three rooms of supplies. (Now) it’s taking over the whole building. It’s really been phenomenal. The amount of support we’ve received from businesses and individuals has been incredible, especially considering that it’s not a household name yet.”
Warehouse volunteer Joan Reid is new to the project. Reid, who has worked as a private tutor for exceptional children for the past 12 years, visited the warehouse earlier this summer to donate a portion of the wealth of supplies she has amassed over the course of her 35 years in education.
“I came to donate materials and I got drafted,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve been here on Tuesdays ever since. I know how much teachers spend on materials in the course of the year, so I think this is a great, great project.”
Though she’s only been on the job for a short time, Reid said she is proud of the project and the role it plays in the lives of her former colleagues.
“I just feel good about what I’m doing. I feel like I’m giving back,” she remarked. “I think teachers are doing a tremendously difficult job and anything we can do to help, we should.”
Teachers must work in the local school system and register online to be eligible to shop in the warehouse. The warehouse is hosting a fundraiser tonight (Thursday, Aug. 15) at the Winston-Salem Dash baseball game at 7 p.m. Those who contribute $10 or more to the organization will receive a Dash t-shirt. The organization will host a “Stuff the Bus” donation drive on Saturday, Aug. 17 at the Winston-Salem Open. For more information or to make a donation, contact Karel Chandler at 336-817-1673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.