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Tempe warehouse helps teachers stock up on supplies

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Arizona Republic - July 26, 2013

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Tempe warehouse helps teachers stock up on supplies

 

In a nondescript Tempe warehouse, shoppers rummage for discounted merchandise.

It’s not Costco or Sam’s Club but a place where schoolteachers from across the Valley come to hunt for file folders, tape dispensers, staplers and an odd assortment of castoffs that they buy themselves to supply their classrooms for the start of a new school year.

Wendy Weinschenk, a teacher for 19 years, bought a membership to the warehouse, Treasures 4 Teachers, five years ago. She has renewed it every year since. On a recent Thursday, she filled several bags with art and science-project supplies. Each filled bag cost her $5.

“I drive 30 minutes, but it’s worth it,” said Weinschenk, who lives in Surprise.

The new school year started in Chandler on Monday. Classes resume in most other Valley schools Aug. 5. Weinschenk, like most teachers, distributes wish lists to parents at the start of each school year.

“I ask for crayons and markers at (back-to-school) sales times,” she said.

But Weinschenk, who teaches at Imagine Rosefield, a public charter school in Surprise, does not rely on parents and her school to provide everything she needs for her kindergarten class. Most teachers spend several hundred dollars out of their pockets each year on classroom supplies.

It costs $35 a year to join Treasures 4 Teachers, a 7-year-old non-profit open to anyone who works with children. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Public-district, public-charter and parochial school educators are eligible to buy a membership. So is anyone in home-school, early-education, parks-and-recreation, and before- and after-school programs. Memberships also are available to those involved in community and youth organizations, Sunday schools and Boy and Girl Scouts.

Members of the public also may buy memberships for someone who works in educational programs.

Treasures 4 Teachers gives member teachers reusable tote bags to load with supplies. They also may choose items from a free area, from which they may take as much as they want.

Members may shop as often as they want.

The non-profit strives to keep usable items out of landfills, help teachers acquire affordable supplies and better connect the business community to education.

“We are all about reuse. We’ve kept 14 Olympic-size swimming pools’ worth of things out of the landfill,” said Barbara Blalock, executive director of Treasures 4 Teachers, who began the non-profit in her garage in Ahwatukee Foothills. “Our mission is to keep things out of the landfills.

“Everyone focuses on back-to-school for kids but not for teachers.”

A recent visitor to the discount warehouse suggested that junk from an old office building might be useful.

“Not junk. Treasures,” Blalock said.

Treasures 4 Teachers has 2,600 members and has grown every year.

On a recent weekday, a steady stream of educators checked out of Treasures 4 Teachers’ recently remodeled lobby, courtesy of Ikea, which donated a $10,000 makeover of the facility last year.

Two summers ago, a storm clobbered the facility, causing its roof to collapse and destroying everything inside.

Several businesses rallied to help the group by donating money, supplies and employees’ time. Salt River Project gave the group $5,000, Farmers Insurance donated $1,000 and US Airways sent employees to haul damaged furniture, equipment and supplies to a dumpster. LA Fitness put barrels in its gyms to collect donations from its members.

Treasures 4 Teachers found a new location, in a southwest Tempe warehouse area at 1230 W. Southern Ave., Suite 105. The facility spans 5,000 square feet.

Because the non-profit has no marketing or advertising budget, teachers learn about it through word of mouth.

“It’s really the best-kept secret,” Blalock said.

Cassie Gonzalez, who teaches preschool through first grade at Montessori Education Center in Mesa, loaded her cart with golf balls, a blow dryer to melt crayons for an art project and other miscellaneous items.

“I learned about this place from my fiance, who found it online. I’ve been a member ever since, 21/2 years now,” Gonzalez said.

The organization employs eight paid staffers who sort used binders, trays and even big items such as tool chests and file cabinets. Volunteers help by organizing books and other items.

“Teachers are our best volunteers because they know how to organize things,” Blalock said.

Tony Taylor, a warehouse coordinator, said the variety of daily donations “makes the job interesting.”

Asked about the most interesting item he has received, Taylor thought for a minute.

“We’ve gotten drinking fountains, toilet seats, bamboo poles, an Intel tool case,” he said.

A teacher wanted to buy the tool case, but she had to return when there were enough volunteers to lift the gigantic item into her truck.

Vinyl records also are hot items, as well as magazines.

Treasures 4 Teachers sells primarily donated items, but Blalock budgets $1,000 to supplement what the group receives from the community. She recently used that money to buy construction kits and other items.

Deilani Ferguson, a seventh-grade science teacher in Surprise at Calibre Academy, said she comes to the warehouse nearly every week to get supplies for her classroom and for fellow teachers.

“We are starting a greenhouse this year, so we need a lot of stuff,” she said.

Editor's note: Barbara Blalock, the executive director and founder of Treasures 4 Teachers, was a member of the 2009-2010 Generation Next Nonprofit Leadership Academy class.

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