Education

Wichita nonprofit group provides teachers with free school supplies

Ashley Calvert, a teacher at Enders Community Service Magnet, shops for classroom supplies at the Project Teacher warehouse.
Ashley Calvert, a teacher at Enders Community Service Magnet, shops for classroom supplies at the Project Teacher warehouse. The Wichita Eagle

David Lazell knew it would take a lot of time to get his classroom ready for fourth-graders at Griffith Elementary School in Wichita.

And a lot of money.

“I was starting from scratch, so I did a lot of garage-saling,” said Lazell, who began teaching last year after selling insurance for 15 years. “Other teachers were kind enough to donate books and games and other things.

“But I needed even more than I thought.”

Lazell got help from Project Teacher, a local nonprofit group that runs a free store where teachers can pick up classroom supplies donated by the community.

Studies show that the average teacher spends more than $500 a year of his or her own money on classroom supplies – things like books, posters, games, furnishings and organizational tools as well as paper, pencils, snacks and other basics to supplement what students bring (or don’t bring) to school. For new teachers, the initial investment can be even higher – $1,000 or more.

Since it launched last year, Project Teacher, an initiative of GracePoint Church in west Wichita, has provided about $150,000 worth of free supplies to nearly 500 local teachers.

“It’s been a great year,” said Terry Johnson, director of Project Teacher. “Going into it, we didn’t know what to expect. We thought maybe we could help one or two schools.

“But it grew a lot quicker than we ever anticipated,” Johnson said. “Teachers have been extremely grateful when they’re trying to prepare their classroom and realize they can get a couple thousand dollars worth of supplies that they didn’t have to spend a dime on.”

Earlier this year, Project Teacher became a junior affiliate of the Kids in Need Foundation, a national nonprofit that distributes free school supplies to needy children. Through that partnership the Wichita group gets truckloads of donated supplies and has to pay only the cost of freight to get them here, Johnson said – about $2,000 per truck.

“Each truck we get in has about $200,000 in supplies, so that’s kind of a no-brainer for us,” he said. “We’re just trying to identify local partners – businesses and companies – that are willing to give financially to help cover the freight.”

Project Teacher’s success means the group is quickly outgrowing its warehouse and retail space near GracePoint Church at Central and Tyler. The store opens by reservation only, based on inventory and teacher needs, Johnson said.

“We could stay open more, but we feel like we need to have the core items – crayons, paper and pencils – in stock,” he said.

Volunteers already are planning for school supply drives in December, about mid-way through the school year.

“That’s when a lot of the back-to-school supplies have dwindled, and that’s when we’ve seen a greater need from teachers,” Johnson said. “By that time, their classroom budgets have been depleted as well.”

Lazell, the fourth-grade teacher, said he learned about Project Teacher from his teaching coach at Griffith. He shopped at the group’s store three times last year, collecting notebooks, binders, pencils, staplers, dry-erase markers and books for his classroom library.

“There’s no way I could have afforded it all on my own, so I just would not have had as many supplies as I really needed,” Lazell said. “My classroom library wouldn’t be as big.

“As teachers, we do a lot of out-of-pocket (spending), and we just greatly appreciate any support that we can get from anybody else. It’s an awesome thing.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

How to help

Project Teacher operates a volunteer-run store for teachers that is stocked with classroom supplies donated by the community. The group needs monetary donations to pay freight costs for donated supplies and also is seeking additional warehouse space. For information about how and what to donate – including a list of items the group accepts – visit ProjectTeacher.org and click on “Donate.”

Wichita-area teachers seeking supplies are asked to register on the group’s website. Eligible teachers can shop two times a year; new and second-year teachers can shop four times a year. For more information, go to the group’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/projectteacher.

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