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At Supply Swap, A Teacher's Discarded Blackboard Is Another's Blank Slate


Some people want to relieve a financial burden on teachers. Think of this burden as the expense of dedication because on average teachers spend more than $500 of their own money on school supplies every year. How to help? Here's NPR's Adelina Lancianese.

ADELINA LANCIANESE, BYLINE: I find Paul Veracka combing through a rack of laminated posters, the kind that tell children to shoot for the stars or that diagram the inside of a prehistoric hut.

And you're a teacher?


LANCIANESE: What do you teach?

VERACKA: Second grade. This will be my first year.

LANCIANESE: Veracka is shopping at the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap, a store set up at an old warehouse that allows area teachers to get the materials they need - for free. Veracka's tote bags bulge as he ticks items off his long list.

VERACKA: So I'm getting bins for all my books, stickers, tape...

LANCIANESE: At the end of the day, Veracka will take home about $44 in school supplies. He says he'll be getting most of his school materials here this year.

VERACKA: The Teacher Supply Swap is the only way that I would be able to afford any of this, honestly, because I just got out of grad school, and I basically have no money. And so all the supplies that I needed, it's just way too much for my salary right now.

LANCIANESE: Education budgets across the country are strapped. And supplies just can't always be a top priority for school districts.

MELISSA BADEKER: At the same time, teachers and schools accumulate masses of supplies.

LANCIANESE: That's Melissa Badeker. She's a former teacher who co-founded the swap.

BADEKER: So when they switch grade levels, when they retire or when they switch content areas, they have supplies that they no longer need. And they want to give it to someone who needs it.

LANCIANESE: In 2014, Badeker started a small swap in community centers and church basements among the educators she knew. When more and more teachers started dropping off supplies, Badeker ran out of room.

BADEKER: And at that point, we realized we need to start a model of a store, where we could keep the things permanently and open it as needed.

LANCIANESE: Now any child care provider, from home schooling parents to private school teachers, can shop the Teacher Supply Swap twice a week and take up to five tote bags of gently used goods. A teacher's first visit is always free. After that, there is an annual membership fee. Last year, the swap says it gave away more than $127,000 in school supplies.

Where do you think these items would be if they weren't in your store?

BADEKER: They'd be in the trash. They would be in a landfill somewhere.

LANCIANESE: Badeker says the most requested supplies are consumables, items that kids use up quickly like pencils and notebooks. And they're also something, she says, most people take for granted.


LANCIANESE: Now, to meet teachers where they are, the supply truck has gone on the road in an old plumber's truck.

BADEKER: We had a group of art teachers who visit the swap frequently. They designed it and painted it. It's pretty bright.

LANCIANESE: Today Badeker is setting up the truck at Dayspring Head Start. Ulrica Crawley teaches preschool here. She grabs a tote bag and boards the truck.

ULRICA CRAWLEY: Stapler - heavy duty stapler. This would be awesome. Staplers are always handy for hanging things in the classroom.

LANCIANESE: Crawley leaves the truck with $56 worth of supplies. She says the swap has saved her about a fourth of what she usually spends out of pocket each year.

CRAWLEY: It's like a pick-me-up to let us know that somebody cares for us as much as we care for our children.

LANCIANESE: Between the warehouse and the truck on the day I visited, the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap says it gave away more than $6,000 in school supplies to 54 local educators. This weekend and for the rest of the school year, they'll do it all over again.

Adelina Lancianese, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAST LUNGS' "INGLEND, PART 3") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adelina Lancianese is the assistant producer for the NPR Story Lab, a creative studio that fosters newsroom experimentation and incubates new podcasts. At the Story Lab, Lancianese works primarily on investigative, long-form projects, and also helps organize the annual Story Lab Workshop for the development of new independent and Member station podcasts.