COLUMN: It’s Christmas all year at Bloomington non-profit store
It’s Christmas all year long for over a thousand metro area teachers and staff who receive FREE school supplies at a novel non-profit store called Companies to Classrooms.
Seven years ago, Cary Weatherby, a Bloomington mother who has business experience, realized companies and corporations needed to get rid of surplus office supplies and inventory that teachers and students could use.
She rented some space in Bloomington, and soon companies found it was easier and cheaper to donate their outdated supplies and equipment to Weatherby, who began to give them away to teachers.
Over seven years “Santa” Weatherby and her volunteer “elves” have given teachers $1.7 million in donated school supplies from pencils to office furniture.
During this past year, over a thousand teachers from the Bloomington, Richfield and Shakopee school districts have come to this amazing free store in Bloomington for supplies ranging from pencils, paper and crayons to yoga mats and office furniture.
As a result, hundreds of students have supplies they otherwise could not afford, and teachers have fewer out-of-pocket costs for their own supplies. (Teachers on average spend $700 a year of their own money for supplies.)
Any teacher or staff member can go on line (firstname.lastname@example.org), request a list of surplus items, put in an order and pick them up at the free store, 8301 Grand Ave., Bloomington.
Weatherby got the idea for this exchange while visiting with Ridgeview Elementary School teacher Debbie Rhode. She offered Rhode some surplus alphabet stickers and she was thrilled to get them. Weatherby then realized teachers needed extra supplies they couldn’t afford.
She adapted a model plan that linked companies with a need to get rid of surplus and used supplies with teachers who needed them.
Weatherby has 500 donors and companies on her Christmas list. “I was amazed to see what corporations were willing to give away,” she said, pointing to rows and rows of shelves overflowing with “stuff” teachers can use. (Target Corporation donated and installed the shelving.)
At least 100 teachers a week come to the 8,000 square foot warehouse in Bloomington where they are allowed to select 15 different kinds of items a month for their students.
One afternoon, teachers filed in, showed their identification cards and picked up a clipboard to track their selections. Becky Smith of Metro South Bloomington selected pens, scissors, rulers and other supplies to carry out the Under-21 Diploma program. Art teacher Adam Miller of Richfield picked up anything he could find, since he has a very limited budget.
Weatherby beamed. “I love this job, because everyone likes us.” She and her husband Scott have two children. She has mostly volunteered her time.
The “Grinch” in this story, however, is financing the operation that this year required up to $60,000. Paying the monthly rent of $5,000 to an understanding landlord is always a challenge, because revenues come from companies, foundations, grants and private donors.
Next year, Weatherby dreams of raising $150,000 to pay the rent, and hiring a store manager and a volunteer coordinator so that more school district teachers and students can be served.
Her Christmas wish: “I hope to find a millionaire with ties to education who understands how many supplies teachers need.”
You can find her and her volunteer elves by calling 952-888-7708 or email@example.com.
I’m sure I speak for many teachers in wishing Weatherby, her staff, volunteers and donor companies a Merry Christmas for running this free store – a gift that just keeps on giving.
Don Heinzman is an editorial writer and columnist for ECM/Sun Newspapers.