As the Back To School Teachers store enters its busiest time of year, a new executive director is jumping in.
Just a few weeks into the job, Stacey Wheeler is realizing the need for school supplies is much greater than she imagined. The store offers supplies for teachers at no cost but isn’t filling the need for what Wheeler calls “core” supplies, like pencils, paper and glue sticks.
After talking to teachers from different schools, Wheeler has concluded that Muncie Community Schools needs 30,000 glue sticks to start the year, and 200,000 pencils.
Having school supplies is important, she said. It can help with class participation, self-esteem, attendance and social interaction, according to the store’s parent organization, Kids in Need Foundation.
“You wouldn’t send a soldier off to war without bullets,” Wheeler said. She gets emotional when talking about it and said if she had known about this years ago, she would have started “doing more about it” sooner.
Wheeler spent 15 years working in higher education before moving to Muncie six years ago when her husband, Darren Wheeler, became a professor at Ball State University. Since then she worked in after-school programming for A Better Way for four years.
To better address the problem in Delaware County, the Teacher Store is partnering with Hearts & Hands United of Delaware County, the local nonprofit that hosts the large annual school supply giveaway.
Last year, the nonprofit had 2,000 backpacks, but a shortage of supplies that fill them. There were about 3,000 fewer packages of lined paper and 2,000 fewer folders than past years. There were also fewer colored pencils and school boxes. This year there’s the challenge of schools starting earlier, leaving less time to gather donations.
While 2,000 backpacks is helpful, Wheeler’s calculations lead her to believe there are closer to 4,000 children in need of help. She partially based this on the number of children who qualify for free or reduced lunch, which is 75.1 percent of MCS students.
Wheeler heard the giveaway was facing another shortage this year and decided to help by providing several hundred binders and 700 new books for preschool through second grade.
“For me it’s so critical to be getting these kids books, building that home library,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler is still working through other projects left by former director Kristen Bitzegaio, including a library of sensory tools for special education teachers. Her first focus is getting through the back-to-school season and making sure teachers have the core supplies they need.
Over the past three years, MCS teachers have taken from the Back to School store supplies with a value of $309,700, Wheeler said. She says the number of teachers and number of trips per teacher has kept increasing over those three years. Otherwise, teachers would have had to buy those supplies with their personal money, she said.
“Teachers are feeling the stress of not having supplies,” she said.
Additional store hours
The Back To School Teachers Store will be open for additional hours on the first Saturday of every month.
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 6
Where: 1318 S Madison St.
For more information on how to donate call (765) 282-7350
To donate to Hearts & Hands United: Collection boxes are placed around the community, including at: Christian Ministries, 401 E. Main St., City Hall, 200 N. High St., and the county building, 100 W. Main St.