MUNCIE, Ind. — The Back to School Teachers Store, which expects to operate on a budget of $75,000 next year, could procure more than $1 million in school supplies for children most in need during 2018.
From its store on South Madison Street, near Seventh Street, the nonprofit group handed out about $847,000 worth of free pencils, glue sticks, spiral notebooks, dry erase markers and other supplies in 2017.
That more than doubled the $406,668 worth of supplies the store donated to Delaware County classrooms in 2016.
The organization operates out of a former neighborhood drug store bordered by a plasma donation center, a used-car lot, mini warehouses, the Urban Light Community Church, and a boarded-up commercial building.
With the exception of Director Stacy Wheeler, volunteers run the store.
Wheeler, whose husband is an associate professor of political science at Ball State University, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of New Hampshire and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in environmental sciences. She co-founded and serves as president of RecycleMania, a friendly national competition and benchmarking tool for college and university recycling programs.
That expertise helps at the store, where the supplies include donations of recycled paper-towel rolls, plastic water bottles, coffee containers and milk cartons, bubble wrap, egg cartons and Styrofoam peanuts. Such merchandise is used by teachers for STEM projects and art supplies.
Megan Quirk, a city attorney and president of the store’s board of directors, said the high poverty rate at Muncie Community Schools helped when the store successfully applied to become a Jr. Affiliate of the Kids in Need Foundation (KINF).
The foundation has offices in Dayton and Minneapolis and is rated as a four-star (exceptional) charity by Charity Navigator, based on its financial health and its accountability/transparency. KINF procured and distributed nearly $130 million in schools supplies to 5.4 million students and assisted 180,000 teachers in 2016, according to its annual report.
The foundation has increased the quantity and quality of supplies obtained by the Muncie store in 2017, Quirk said. The first semi tractor-trailer load of supplies shipped to Muncie by the foundation was worth $400,000. Instead of collecting reams of paper, for example, the store receives corrugated pallet boxes full of paper from the foundation.
According to the Indiana Department of Education, 78 percent of students enrolled at MCS this year are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
When families can barely afford rent and groceries, school supplies aren’t a priority, according to KINF.
On average, the foundation says, teachers spend $578 a year from their own pockets on school supplies for their classrooms. That’s why the foundation operates 40 resource centers across the country where teachers can go to obtain free school supplies.
BIC, Crayola, Dixon Ticonderoga, Elmer’s and Target are among KINF’s national sponsors.
Muncie is one of only seven Jr. Affliates of KINF, along with the Ocean Bank Center for Educational Materials in Miami, Fla., The Pencil Box in Tulsa, and the Teacher Resource Center of the North Bay in Napa, Calif. The only KINF Affiliate in Indiana is Teachers’ Treasures, Indianapolis. Many of the affiliates are in large cities, such as Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Bronx, Dallas and Cleveland.
The Muncie store remains dependent on numerous local individual, organization and business supporters as well.
“When local individuals and businesses donate cash or products to us, they are telling me they’re investing in our kids and the future health of our community,” Wheeler said. “It reflects how much they support our schools and our students.”
About 700 Delaware County teachers shopped at the Muncie location in 2017. “Teachers often come in … for a specific item but leave with a full shopping cart,” Wheeler told The Star Press.
The most popular supplies are books, glue sticks, composition notebooks/spiral notebooks, binders and dry erase markers. The most sought-after supplies recently have been clear office tape, masking tape, electrical pencil sharpeners, nice desk-side pencil sharpeners, and any art supplies.
Sarah Reason, a fifth-grade teacher at East Washington Academy, has shopped at the store for hundreds of books to build an extensive classroom library.
“Sarah is using a ‘book app’ and has her students catalog the books, writing a description about each one,” Wheeler said. “It’s amazing.”
Roza Selvey, a science/math teacher at Southside Middle School, has shopped for science-related supplies, including thousands of popsicle sticks to build windmills.
Sarah Coggin, a special education teacher at Southside, takes her class to the store almost weekly to sort, box and shelve donations like paper clips by size and color.
“We get thousands and thousands of paper clips in as a donation and they go out of the store just as fast,” Wheeler said.
The store was able to fill Grissom Elementary School Principal Melissa DeWitt’s request for 375 wireless computer mice to accompany new Chromebook laptops.
Teachers from day care centers that have earned Level 3 or Level 4 ratings from Paths to Quality also shop at the store, as do those from Boys & Girls Club, Motivate Our Minds and Inspire Academy.
Members of the store’s board of directors are President Megan Quirk; Vice President Marilyn Carey, retired teacher/librarian and former Muncie School Board member; Secretary Christy Luellen, retired communications director at Muncie Community Schools; Treasurer Sherry Carter, from Network Properties; Candy Dodd, from Ball State; Jackie Johnston, founder of the store; Andrea Lutz, from Indiana Public Radio; Margaret McClellan, a retired public teacher; Becky McDonald, from Ball State; David Pilkington, from Ontario Systems, and Mike Tschuor, president of Pridemark Construction.
For donations, the store’s contact information is 1318 S Madison St., P.O. Box 925
Muncie, 47308; or 765-282-7350; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or backtoschoolteacherstore.org.