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Educator Warehouse allows teachers to replenish school supplies

By Beth Cassidy
For the Clemmons Courier

In a pod behind Diggs-Latham Elementary School in Winston-Salem, there is a gem of a one-stop shopping experience for Forsyth County teachers.

The Educator Warehouse is a retail space where teachers can shop for school and classroom supplies, taking a little of the sting out of the $600-800 on average they normally spend out of pocket to help their students have what they need for a successful school year.

Karel Chandler, a member of the Forsyth Educator Partnership, heads up the warehouse, which is supported by monetary donations and donations of new and gently used teaching supplies. She and about nine other volunteers are available August through May to help teachers complete their shopping.

Chandler was at a meeting in 2010 when she learned that the main supplier of classroom essentials, located in Kernersville, had to dump excess inventory, and that it would be going to Guilford County. Months later, she learned that Guilford County would again be receiving the excess so she asked then Superintendent Dr. Don Martin to find a space in Forsyth County for the supplies. In June 2011, they were leased the pod (for free) and teachers began shopping.

At the beginning of each quarter, teachers are given 37 points to use for shopping, as everything is on a point basis. A bundle of 10 pencils, for example, “costs” one point. The pod is divided into several rooms that contain supplies, including the math and science room, the social studies/language arts/ESL room, a library, a free room and work rooms.

There’s also an arts and crafts room called the JoAnn room because JoAnn Fabrics donates much of what is inside, Chandler said.

“We get a donation about once a month; it might be a box or it might be 10 boxes.”

Amy Newsome, Family and Consumer Science teacher at West Forsyth High, said with her classes being “very hands-on,” she is always in need of craft and project supplies.

“The Educator Warehouse allows me to replenish my supplies during the school year, which benefits me because often I would pay for those items out of my own pocket.”

Shoppers are given a clipboard and write down all their purchases, before going to the checkout room. They can also shop online, and their orders will be ready for pickup in 24 hours (excluding weekends).

Chandler said teachers love the free room and the library, where they can receive 40 books per quarter to create their own classroom libraries, free of charge.

“Teachers can shop once per quarter, and if they shop smartly, they can end up with between $200-300 worth of supplies free each quarter. We can’t do it all but we try to fill in the gaps,” said Chandler.

Pre-COVID, around 40% of the county’s teachers shopped at the warehouse but Chandler said she’d like to see that number increase to 60% or more this year. She said she also has hopes they may someday be large enough to receive supplies from Kids In Need Foundation, the largest supplier of free school supplies in the nation. In order to qualify to be an affiliate, they need 10,000 square feet of space and a forklift and loading dock. Chandler said she has been on the hunt for such a space but hasn’t been successful in finding one yet.

Rhonda Rampley, a teacher at Clemmons Middle School, said, “Every material I purchase makes a huge difference in students’ lives. While I didn’t pay money for the materials, they are priceless to students who do not have what they need. No one should have to feel embarrassed or worry about being prepared for school. School supplies can be so expensive. Thanks to the Educator Warehouse, my students don’t have to go without these valuable resources. If a student doesn’t have supplies, I pull out the ones from a recent trip to the warehouse, and their faces light up.”

As with all non-profits, there are always needs. The majority of donations come in between July and October, and every piece that comes in the door has to be documented and counted, which takes a team of volunteers.

The warehouse gets some corporate money and local businesses do supply drives within their companies, but most of the inventory comes from people donating items. On their top 10 list of needs are Kleenex, 8.5×11 copy paper, glue sticks, highlighters, Sharpies, binder clips, staplers/staples, colored pencils, pens and calculators. Donations of new or gently used supplies may be dropped off at the warehouse during open hours. They also accept monetary donations via check, made payable to The Educator Warehouse, or on their website, educatorwarehouse.org.

Kendra Johnson, the warehouse manager, may be reached at 336-671-1078, and Chandler may be reached at 336-817-1673. Shopping hours are Tuesday and Thursday, 3:30-5:30 p.m. and the first and third Saturdays of each month, 9-11 a.m.