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Teachers Use Web Site That Connects Them With Donors of Supplies

When Jerry Hall launched, a Web service that allows teachers to request classroom supplies from donors nationwide, he was fulfilling a childhood promise.

"I always thought as a kid, when I got big and strong that I would help people. Now, I have the tools to pull [that] off," said Mr. Hall, the chief executive of, a San Diego-based Web-design company that operates the service.

The year-old Web site, which is modeled after a New York City-based program, contains a database of 95,000 U.S. schools and offers teachers the opportunity to register and then post a list of supplies and classroom equipment they can’t afford because of budget constraints. Potential donors who visit the site can search the lists by region, item, school, and even teacher and then make donations accordingly.

Donors and teachers who connect work out the details of the transactions themselves. That approach is unusual, Mr. Hall says, among Web-based nonprofits, which usually try to keep a small portion of each transaction to support their sites.

"We’re not asking people for money," he said. "We’re asking people to give to schools."

Some 4,000 teachers from 49 states have registered and posted requests, which range from simple items, such as naptime pillows and baby wipes, to computers. There are no limits on what a teacher may request, but the service does require address verification to ensure that only real schools are requesting donations.

One-Click Shopping

Stop, shop, and roll. That’s the idea behind the One Stop School Shop, a 4-year-old online school supply company founded by high school teacher Glenda Sidman.

Ms. Sidman, who taught high school French and Spanish for 25 years, started the Tequesta, Fla.-based company in 2000 to help parents, schools, and communities combat shrinking school budgets and obtain ready-made school supply kits with ease.

"As a working mother married to a busy man, going out trying to find school supplies for three kids was a headache over the summer," she said. "I thought this would be an awesome way to use technology to ensure that children get the supplies they need."

Teachers place their school supply lists on the Web site and parents can then go to the site to buy a complete supply kit instead of having to hunt for items such as backpacks, uniforms, lunchboxes, and accessories at various stores.

When a parent purchases a kit, 10 percent of the cost is automatically donated to his or her school. Currently, the program is available in 15 states, but Ms. Sidman plans to expand it nationwide within the next two years.

Service on Demand

As the manager of a manufacturing-systems operations group for the International Business Machines Corp., Andrew Seward could easily be described as a busy man. Finding the time to volunteer at his son’s school—where students marvel at his ability to build miniature bridges out of marshmallows and spaghetti—may seem to be an unlikely prospect.

But when IBM launched its new On Demand Community program in November, Mr. Seward and 12,500 other company employees signed up.

The program offers IBM employees the opportunity to reach out to schools by mentoring students online or helping teachers learn basic Internet skills.

"This is about the kind of company IBM has always aspired to be," said Robin Willner, the Armonk, N.Y.-based company’s director of corporate community relations. "Customers and shareholders are important, but if a company doesn’t care about the community, it will not be successful."

The technology giant, which has 319,000 employees worldwide, hopes to recruit 25,000 volunteers by next year. To make it easier for employees to find suitable opportunities for volunteering, a company Web site offers a searchable list of current community programs, project-planning resources, and ideas on how to carry them out. In addition, the program recognizes employees for their efforts and provides aid to schools where employees volunteer on a regular basis. Schools with volunteers who put in at least 40 hours over five months are eligible for $1,000 in cash or a $3,500 equipment grant. Schools with teams of three or more regular IBM volunteers are also eligible to receive up to $7,500 in equipment grants.

Appetite for Learning

Encouraging children to learn and read more about other cultures has always been a goal for teachers at Woodinville Montessori School just outside Seattle. So when a group of 6th graders took an interest in helping disadvantaged families in other countries, the teachers were all ears.

The 6th grade class studied the cultures and economies of several countries, using some resources from Heifer International, a Little Rock, Ark.-based nonprofit organization that works to end world hunger by providing livestock—such as cows, goats, chickens, and lamas—that will be a renewable food source for poor communities.

The organization offers several donation opportunities, including the Read to Feed program, which encourages student literacy. Students collect donations for every book they read, which are then used toward the purchase of livestock. The nonprofit organization also offers 3rd and 4th grade curriculum materials on other cultures, including lessons on geography, science, and economics.

Students at the 230-student Montessori school got so excited about what they learned that they decided to make their fund-raiser a yearlong project. The goal is to raise $5,000 toward the purchase of an "ark of animals." So far, they’ve raised $1,700.

Heifer International raised close to $1 million working with nearly 3,000 schools in the 2002-03 school year. Spokesman Tom Peterson said it plans to expand the curriculum resources to 5th and 6th graders this coming fall. Eventually, the group hopes to provide such materials for kindergarten through 12th grade.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Vol. 23, Issue 30, Page 12

Published in Print: April 7, 2004, as Philanthropy Update
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