School Supply Store for City School District Fueled by Local Giving
When Katie Gold first approached the Portland Schools Foundation in Oregon in 1999, no one realized the impact her suggestion would have on thousands of area teachers and students.
Inspired by a magazine article about a free teacher-supply store located in Ohio, Ms. Gold hoped to establish a similar facility to aid the 53,000-student Portland school system, a cash-strapped district plagued by record budget shortfalls and high student poverty. (“Portland Schools’ Financial Crisis Threatens Future,” March 5, 2003.) With the foundation’s sponsorship, Schoolhouse Supplies opened in January of 2000 and began serving 11 high- poverty schools in the district.
The store’s popularity spread quickly. It soon outgrew its meager office space and relocated to a 9,300-square-foot warehouse on the Madison High School campus in east Portland. The store now supplies all 131 Portland public schools—serving 3,200 teachers and more than 54,000 students—and has donated $2.3 million worth of free school supplies.
“What we’re doing here is helping the community become part of the solution [for public schools],” said Nick Viele, the nonprofit organization’s director of procurement.
The store gathers surplus supplies—including pencils, notepads, books, backpacks, and crayons—from local businesses that are moving, in bankruptcy, or find themselves with supplies they no longer need.
With a staff of only four, the organization depends heavily on volunteers and runs year-round supply drives to help stock its shelves. Teachers are allowed two to four trips to the store per year depending on the poverty levels of their schools, but teachers who volunteer at the store can earn extra trips.
Students also can volunteer and earn supply-trip credits for their schools. The average teacher receives about $175 worth of supplies per trip.
The organization, which credits local business and community support with much of its success, hopes to expand statewide over the next two years.
It started with an idea and a check for $6,000.
The superintendent who accepted the money looked at Ford Cauffiel in surprise and said, “Mister, no one gives money to public education.”
But Mr. Cauffiel, an entrepreneur whose company—Cauffiel Industries—builds machinery for automobile manufacturers, had seen the benefits of training and mentoring his own employees. He believed that struggling students in the 4,400-student Perrysburg school district in northwest Ohio could profit from similar experiences.
The Students for Other Students program, which Mr. Cauffel started in 1989 and later incorporated as a nonprofit group in 1990, provides funding for school districts to hire students as tutors. The money is matched by the district, which provides after-school busing and pays student tutors at least $6 an hour, or just above the minimum wage, to teach their peers one to two hours a week.
The program is now in seven Ohio school districts, employs 40 to 50 student tutors in grades K-12, and reaches more than 2,000 students.
The company has invested close to $75,000 a year in the program.
Right now, the program is focusing on improving reading.
Music education is far from a top priority in many schools facing tight budgets.
But in Anne Arundel County, Md., Jason’s Music Center, a local piano store, sought to turn the tide.
In 1998, owner Steve Cohen and Bruce Horner, then chief music coordinator for the Anne Arundel County public schools, discovered a mutual need.
Mr. Horner needed new pianos, but his district couldn’t afford to buy them. At the same time, Mr. Cohen had lost a major supplier and was facing lean financial times. Their solution was the Public School Piano Loan Program.
Mr. Cohen began supplying some music classes in the 75,000-student district with free pianos.
The schools keep the instruments for a full year and then send home letters with students and staff members announcing a yearly piano sale. The used school pianos are sold to the public at discounted prices, and Jason’s Music Center takes in the revenue. The music store then provides the school system with new pianos.
Since its inception, Mr. Cohen has received so many inquiries from other dealers that he intends to hold a seminar this coming January to help others in the music industry help their local schools and spread the program nationwide.
—Marianne D. Hurst