In an era when school budgets have been slashed to bare minimums and American families have faced unprecedented economic challenges, school supplies for curricular projects are in short supply. In recent years, teachers across America have spent hundreds of dollars out of their annual salaries on school supplies to create learning projects for their students.
In 2004, Barbara Blalock, then a Senior Regional Preschool Director at WMCA in Phoenix, AZ, was tasked with accrediting 13 preschools through The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The challenge she faced was the fact that the preschools did not have the funds to purchase some of the needed items to meet the requirements of the NAEYC accreditation standards. The cost of items such as binders, desk trays, markers, staplers, tape dispensers and other expensive office supplies are beyond school budgets, and yet they are basic necessities for classroom projects that enable these schools meet accreditation requirements.
“Students cannot learn and become productive members of society without the basic essentials for learning, such as paper, pencils and other basic school supplies,” said Blalock. In her quest to find an economically feasible solution, she realized that as corporations downsize, move or go paperless, surplus office supplies that are recycled or discarded as waste could be repurposed as school supplies in classrooms.
Blalock approached local businesses to see if they had surplus office supplies that they would consider donating to the YMCA preschool programs. Intel was among the first to begin donating from their “Dump Your Junk” quarterly event. Blalock began to gather these supplies, store them in her garage and disperse the supplies to teachers at each of the preschools in her region.
Before long, other companies started donating surplus supplies. Motorola, The NFL and Goodrich were a few that jumped on board to donate as they went paperless, downsized or closed offices.
“My garage was bursting at the seams,” said Blalock. Eventually, she decided it was time to share the wealth of donations with other teachers, who spend their own money to purchase school supplies for projects and crafts that help their students learn. “I realized that there was a real demand for a ‘Reusable Resource Center’ for teachers in Arizona.”
Treasures 4 Teachers is now a 501(c)3 organization serving teachers in Arizona. Since 2011, it has grown from the size of a two-car garage to 10,000 square foot facilities filled with a variety of resources for teachers in two locations, Tempe and Tucson. Volunteers stock shelves, sort donations, assist teacher shoppers with the check-in and check-out process, assist with parking and generally keep the organization running.
Treasures 4 Teachers continues to rely on the generosity of the community to keep its doors open. She encourages anyone who can donate materials, make a financial contribution or volunteer to visit the Treasures 4 Teachers website. “We have lots of jobs that are part-time — for instance, week-day mornings and occasional jobs as needed,” said Blalock. Plus, she adds, “we always need helpful hands that can provide general assistance in just about anything — general store administration, direct mail campaigns, marketing, fund raising support, bookkeeping and picking up local supply donations.”
Blalock’s vision is to expand operations to several more Treasures 4 Teachers across the state to provide school supplies to support as many educators as possible.