It is fairly widely known that public school teachers, who are seriously underpaid in many regions of the U.S., often incur the additional expense of buying school supplies for their classroom. These supplies can include everything from maps on the wall, to pens and pencils, to backpacks. Thankfully, a number of organizations have sprung up in recent years to collect school necessities and distribute them free to teachers. I talked with a few of them — Sinead Chilton from Schools on Wheels (SOW) in Los Angeles, California, Alice Forbes from Schoolhouse Supplies (SS) in Portland, Oregon — to get the full scoop on their donation process. They have fairly similar wish lists, though Schools on Wheels takes fewer used items than most such organizations.
1. Who uses your program?
(SS) Schoolhouse Supplies’ Free Store for Teachers is open to every teacher in the Portland Public Schools (PPS) district, and to a broader network through our Volunteer Voucher program. As of June 2015, Schoolhouse Supplies has provided school supplies valued at $23.4 million to help students succeed, over $4 million in pencils alone.
(SOW) Our program is open to homeless youth living in shelters, motels, cars, on the street and in group foster homes.
2. What are some unusual items that people might be surprised to know you accept?
(SS) We accept toys and prizes such as small games, novelty pens, etc., that teachers can use for incentives to motivate students.
(SOW) Every year one of our longtime donors knits beanie hats for our students using leftover wool that come in all colors. The kids love them! We also accept gently used books and textbooks, including reference books, history and geography books, and children’s classics. We also take used calculators, scissors, office furniture and supplies.
3. What do you get offered a lot that you can’t use?
(SS) Old textbooks and romance novels.
(SOW) Used school supplies and backpacks. We only give our students new school supplies. It is especially meaningful for homeless kids to get new items because they don’t have the luxury to go shopping for new school supplies. Being able to give a student a choice between brands and designs really makes them feel empowered and start the school year on the right foot.
4. What would be an example of a dream donation?
(SS) Our need for art supplies is always high. Bank of America is generously matching the value of any cash or product donations made to the art aisle between now and then end of the school year, so those would be especially appreciated!
(SOW) Everything a student needs for the whole school year. We also accept used laptops (2009 or newer). It’s very hard for students without access to technology to complete their assignments.
Thanks so much! I hope you will keep organizations like these in mind throughout the school year. If you have a potential donation that you think might be useful to teachers near you, contact the closest such organization near you and ask!