The much-needed supply resources are given out for free to support local teachers through the Teachers' Toolbox organization.
MIAMI – Tubs and tubs of pencils, glue sticks, notebooks, scissors and more school supplies fill a room at the All Saints' Episcopal Church in Miami. The much-needed supply resources are given out for free to support local teachers through the Teachers' Toolbox organization.
Teachers' Toolbox, founded last year by longtime Miami and area educator, Vicki Lewis, is now expanding from helping Miami teachers to help all Ottawa County educators.
“It was really tugging on Mom's heart when DHS was cut, and the teachers would not be getting the resources they needed. So, she came to the church and said, 'I have an idea,' and it went from there,” Lewis' daughter Kaci Hoffer said. “We started with Miami and Mom and I shopped and got everything up and running and had a successful year last year.”
Hoffer is also a teacher, one of a long family line of educators, and is well aware of the need. One or two of her family members have been teaching in Miami Public Schools since 1961 consecutively for 56 years. Lewis is the new Principal of Wyandotte Elementary School.
Teachers ' Toolbox now collects and distributes classroom supplies for all teachers throughout Ottawa County. The church members gather and sort the donated supplies and offer lists for teachers to choose items from and offer opportunities to order and pick up supplies at the church.
“We had some requests last year and it hurt our feelings to have to say, 'I'm sorry it's just for Miami schools,' and the more we talked about it, the more we realized Teachers' Tool Box is a ministry of All Saints' Church.” retired NEO Instructor and church member MarySusan Whaley said. “It made sense that we open our circle a little wider. There are quite a few educators in this congregation. Those in the congregation have always felt the love and support of the congregation. It is a family church, so there was no question when Vicki brought the idea of helping youth in the community.”
The church, through generous donations from individuals, church members, other churches, civic clubs, businesses and community members is now able to expand the program.
Concerned with continuing education budget cuts in Oklahoma, the group began collecting items and quickly the Teacher's Toolbox grew to fill an entire room in the church with supplies.
“Our teachers are being asked to do more and more and more, and are not being paid any more,” former MHS teacher and church member Kay Boman-Harvey said. “And there are a lot of kids who come to school without any supplies.”
Hoffer said many times students also run out part way through the school year and this resource will enable teachers to put supplies in student's hands without them paying out of their own pockets.
“Last year we asked teachers in Miami to give us a list of the most needed supplies and we narrowed that down to 25 things,” Boman-Harvey said. “Everything from paper, pencils, crayons to bacterial wipes and that's where we started to make our stockpile.”
Donations of supplies and monetary donations to buy supplies have now filled the toolbox room, and more are needed to keep the resources available as needed. Donations can be brought to the church or arrangements can be made to pick up donated items.
“We'll go shop,” Boman-Harvey said. “We do most of our shopping at this time of year because this is the time when retailers have the best specials and sales on school supplies.”
Lists of supplies and order forms were mailed to all superintendents in the county. Teachers may make a request by e-mail or come to the Teachers' Toolbox location at the church to pick up supplies every Wednesday, except holidays.
“Every week we get orders from teachers and then we have assistance from the MHS National Honor Society and NEO Ag Ambassadors who come and help us fill those orders,” Whaley said. “We also have teachers who just come by and shop and we give them what they need at no cost to them.”
Julie McFerron, a former NEO Nursing instructor, and her church, the Fairland Methodist Church also got involved in the project.
“We're not only providing things for teachers, we're helping to educate the community about the needs,” McFerron said.
Special requests from teachers can also be made for more specific needs such as the Scantron machine sheets one teacher requested to help with grading papers.
“If there's a specific need there that we don't have, like a PE teacher said, 'I don't really use any of those supplies.' We asked what she needed and she needed a new stop watch and a whistle, so that's what we did,” Boman-Harvey said. “If it's not on the list, they can make a request.”
The Teachers' Toolbox also serves as a clearinghouse for unused supplies to be donated or shared.
“For example, teachers would come to us and say, 'I have these plastic folders that I don't need or I have too many, can you all use them?' Sure. Then the next teacher comes in and says she needs plastic folders, so we work as a clearinghouse for extra stuff,” Boman-Harvey said.
Retired and current teachers are also donating bulletin boards and door and room décor they no longer need or are leftover, which are available at the toolbox. Hygiene supplies needed by older students can also be found for student use.
“It just depends on what we can get and supply to them,” Whaley said.
Hoffer posts sales information weekly on the Teachers' Toolbox Facebook page for parents and donors looking for bargains.
“If you're out buying cheap scissors maybe you could pick up an extra pair for teachers,” she said.
Other cities such as Tulsa have similar programs, but charge teachers a fee unlike the Teachers' Toolbox here which is free to all Ottawa County teachers, but is for teachers only.
Distribution of supplies is available to teachers throughout the school year for continual replenishment or for new needs such as a new student or project.
“Teachers still take money out of their own pockets to do things, but we're trying to help them the best way we can,” Boman-Harvey said.
Hoffer, a Pre-K teacher at Wilson Elementary, said she would often go to the store and buy 100 boxes of crayons to ensure her students had them.
“Now I know if I don't have it, Teachers' Toolbox will provide it,” she said.
Whaley, Boman-Harvey, and Hoffer all say the toolbox has become a labor of love for the church and they would now like others interested across the county to become involved.
“We could not do this if we didn't have the community behind this,” Boman-Harvey said. “We try to do the best we can with what we have. Teachers are very good about just taking what they need, and they can just come here and find what they need. It's been a very fulfilling thing.”
Whaley said she hopes Miami and area teachers recognize there is support for them in this community.
“Vicki has an enthusiasm that's infectious and not only did she reach out to the church, but she reached out to friends and others...and you just get on board when she says, 'I need your help,'” she said. “We need to do this for our teachers.”
Whaley said she thinks it's encouraging for teachers to come by and see the stacks of school supplies and how generous the community has been in donating.
“I think it's encouraging to know people care enough to provide that much,” she said.
Teachers' Toolbox located at All Saints' Episcopal Church at 225 B Street NW in Miami is open the next two Wednesdays, Aug. 9 and Aug. 16, from noon to 5:30 p.m. and every Wednesday from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Donations can be dropped there or more information is available by calling the church at 918-542-3662, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by message on the organization's Facebook page at Teachers' Toolbox.
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.