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Nonprofit offers free school supplies to teachers, families

1/8/2016, 6 a.m.
Public school teachers around the nation are responsible for helping to shape the future of young people, but tight school ...
The nonprofit, Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap collects education materials and supplies and puts them in the hands of teachers free of charge. (Courtesy Photo)

Public school teachers around the nation are responsible for helping to shape the future of young people, but tight school budgets often leave many without adequate classroom supplies and educational materials. Baltimore residents Melissa Badeker and Kathleen Williams, who met while volunteering at the House of Ruth, decided they wanted to help. The former teachers founded Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap (BTSS) in July of 2014.

Badeker and Williams wanted to establish a resource similar to the Baltimore-based Maryland Book Bank, which distributes free books to families, teachers, schools and organizations. As a result, Badeker— who currently serves as the executive director of BTSS— and Williams created a way for student and office supplies, arts and crafts supplies, curriculum supplements and classroom materials to be put to good use. Badeker confirmed that 378 BTSS visitors took 1,043 bags free of supplies in 2015.

“Our goal is to help teachers reach some goals that they need to reach with their kids and give them the tools and support,” Badeker said. “They usually find us through word-of-mouth.”

Their inventory includes an eclectic list that ranges from folders, notebooks, scissors, pencils, crayons, glue, and bulletin board decorations to toys and storage containers. Badeker said that many educators do not have what they need for their classrooms, while various schools and institutions have a surplus of items. Truckloads of supplies come from these sources, along with individual donations.

“A lot of individuals have office supplies sitting around the house [that] they’re not using, or their kids are older and they don’t use puzzles and games anymore. So we’re a good place to get rid of things like that,” Badeker said.

Although Badeker works full-time for a virtual education company, she runs BTSS on a part-time basis. The nonprofit organization is open approximately six days a month at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter, located at 5513 York Road in Baltimore. Badeker said that she feels the hard work that is required to run BTSS is worth it when teachers like Jesalyn Gordon, a second grade teacher in Baltimore City, provide feedback after using the Swap. Gordon reportedly found many things that have helped her students.

"I've gotten a class set of dry erase boards that get used every day and help our classroom save paper. I've gotten a bunch of stuffed animals, which my second graders love to read to and also go to for comfort. The Swap makes it possible for me to get materials I need, particularly as a first year teacher,” Gordon said.

Badeker said approximately 70 percent of BTSS visitors come from Baltimore City, while 10 percent travel from Baltimore County. The rest typically come from surrounding counties.

In addition to educational items and supplies, BTSS browsers may bring canned goods. They are donated to Christian Liberty Church located in Baltimore to support their food pantry program. BTSS also donates supplies to their mentoring program, Imagine Me Ministries. Pet food donations are given to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

BTSS also opens its doors to anyone in need of school supplies or educational materials. Jasmine White, a home schooling mother, is a happy BTSS user who provided favorable feedback to Badeker.

“If home schooled children are to succeed academically, they need parents to take their commitment seriously and provide individual instruction. Most of all, we need to seek out resources that help create a rich, educational environment for our children,” White said. “Baltimore Teacher Swap has been that resource for my family! Through this program, we’ve been able to have access to materials I may not have been able to afford. Rather than choosing between supplies or curriculum, I can get everything I need.”

For more information about BTSS, hours and days of operation, visit:

http://teachersupplyswap.org.