(pictured above: Free supplies of every sort imaginable await local teachers at the Educator Warehouse.)
Teachers – or parents – didn’t have the option of taking advantage of a tax-free weekend this summer, but the Educator Warehouse is still a place where they can get much needed classroom supplies.
The depository of donated school supplies opened today to local teachers, who are allotted 25-points per school quarter that can be used for every type of supply imaginable. Paper, pencils, crayons, binders, markers, books, bulletin board decorations, facial tissue, art supplies and hand sanitizer are among the items in stock.
While its common practice to require students to bring their own school supplies, it is also common knowledge that when students can’t get a hold of those items, teachers often dig into their own pockets to provide them.
“Frequently we have parents who have to choose between food on the table and supplies in the backpack, and they’ve got to go with the food,” said Karel Chandler, who chairs the Warehouse’s advisory committee.
The Warehouse has been a free resource to teachers since 2011, a constant through the state budget cuts that have roiled education over the past several years. This year, lawmakers ended the state’s tax free weekend, which was started in 2002 to help shoppers with back-to-school essentials, to save $13 million in revenue.
Early this year, during the spring semester, Chandler said the Warehouse was used by 28 percent of the teachers in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. That’s more than triple the number who used the service in pervious years.
While teachers who use their points wisely can get up to $150 in free supplies, Chandler said what the Warehouse offers barely scratches the surface for most teachers, who, by some estimates, may spend up to $800 a year on classroom supplies.
“We’re here not to supply the classroom, but to supplement the classroom,” she said.
The Warehouse is located in a modular unit that is 16 classrooms large behind Diggs Latham Elementary School. Materials for different subjects are kept in separate rooms. There is also a craft room with donated wares from Jo Anne’s Fabric and Craft Store. Chandler is constantly looking for donations of supplies and money from individuals and companies to keep the shelves full. Office supplies that companies no longer need are often donated. Items embossed with the Wachovia Bank logo were donated when Wachovia became part of Wells Fargo.
Teens in the Crosby Scholars program have been regular volunteers. One of them, Jordan Jarvis, applied for and received a $500 Disney Friends for Change Youth Grant that was awarded to the Warehouse.
Others, like Chandler, are longtime educational advocates who have been volunteering at schools and with PTAs for years. Aleta Bitting is the treasurer and a past president of the county PTA Council. She’s a regular weekend volunteer at the Warehouse and believes the service is essential because North Carolina teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation.
“Each year, it becomes a little more difficult with budget cuts and things that are happening,” Bitting, a former member of the North Carolina PTA Board, said of teachers’ plight.
The Warehouse has made the “shopping” experience easier for teachers and volunteers with two new laptops and a barcode scanner donated by the BB&T Lighthouse Project. Forsyth Education Association Co-President Susan Tague helped get the system working earlier this week ahead of the fall quarter’s opening day.
She said the first day, during which only new teachers are allowed in to get supplies, are emotional.
“You see a brand new teacher who’s overwhelmed with a new job and all the things she has to do and all the things she wants to do,” she said. “And then comes in here and is given the opportunity to get a lot of the items she’s going to need and she’s not going to be charged for it. And they get emotional, which makes me emotional.”
The Warehouse will be open from August 14-16. After that, it opens for three hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays and two Saturdays a month through May 2015.
There will be a school supply drive for the Warehouse at tonight’s 6 p.m. outdoor concert at Bethabara Park; at the Winston-Salem Open on Aug. 16 and Aug. 20; and at the Aug. 22 Winston-Salem Dash game at the BB&T Ballpark at 7 p.m.
For more information on donating, contact Chandler at 336-659-6165 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.