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PSF Teacher Supply Store Succeeds in New Format

Every August, one of the great kickoff traditions in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) is the Teacher Supply Store presented by the Public School Foundation (PSF) and East Chapel Hill Rotary Club (ECHR). Started in 2007 as an annual event, the goal has always been to defray some of the costs of materials teachers need to start the school year, much of which comes out of their own pockets. 

During previous years, teachers flocked to the American Legion Hall in Chapel Hill, where tables displayed a range of instructional and classroom supplies. With vouchers provided by PSF and ECHR, they shopped for free, and then often stood 30 deep to “check out.” In addition to the tangible benefits, it provided an opportunity for teachers to catch up with friends and colleagues at other schools, and the generosity of the Rotary Club served as a reminder that the community is invested in the success of CHCCS staff. 

But like with so much else, Covid-19 put that tradition on hold.

“Having the store this year was not optional,” said PSF Executive Director, Madeline Blobe. “We were determined to make it happen, and the East Chapel Hill Rotary was all in, too. It was extremely important to our board that we show teachers support during this difficult start to a new school year.”

PSF Teacher Store interview By 8:00 a.m. on August 14, numerous PSF volunteers joined ECHR members at Triangle Office Equipment to bag teacher supplies, carry them out to tables in the parking lot and load them into cars destined for every elementary school in the district. The morning was steamy, but everyone was masked and distanced as they bustled from station to station. A series of media teams stopped by for interviews and video footage, so the event was well-covered on local television and radio stations. 

When the volunteer drivers arrived at schools, they were greeted by administrators and staff, delighted to accept the donations on behalf of their teachers. Ephesus Elementary School (EES) Principal, Eric Taylor, was all smiles as he came out to greet PSF Board President, May Martin Bryan and ECHR member, Walter Mallett, whose own children and grandchildren attended EES.

Allison Worthy has served in various roles with PSF since 2001, so she is a true veteran, familiar with every aspect of the supply store tradition. The American Legion Hall closed permanently last year, and Worthy said, “In the initial planning for this year’s Teacher Supply Store, it seemed like the biggest hurdle was going to be finding a new venue for the store. Little did we know that we would be dealing with a pandemic, social distancing and remote learning.”

“As it turned out, we didn’t need a new venue at all,” Worthy said. “Instead, we went back to the drawing board and reinvented the store! With the support and determination of our partners, the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club and Triangle Office Equipment, we were able to come up with a safe and efficient way to get supplies to our teachers, all in the span of a few hours. Amazing teamwork and collaboration!”

Tim Smith of ECHR spent the morning as one of three “baggers,” along with Worthy and Suki Newton, another long-time PSF volunteer. Each string bag held packages of Sharpies, Post-It’s and Expo markers; teachers also received anchor pads and gift cards. Those choices were made by teachers, whose remote instruction wish list was substantially different from the stickers, pencil sharpeners and erasers of past years. PSF Supply store baggers

“I think the survey of teachers really helped narrow our number of different supplies which was really helpful this year,” Smith said. “The fact that (owner) Daye Jones purchased and stored the supplies was a game changer.” Jones also provided the interior of his store for the sorting and bagging.

“I didn’t know quite what to expect the morning of, but we always had enough sorters, ‘station set-uppers’ and delivery vehicle drivers that it all ran well and efficiently,” Smith said. “I really appreciated that PSF board members were paired up with ECHR members on the delivery runs.”

Dena Thomason serves on the PSF Board, and she provided valuable choreography among volunteers throughout the morning. “I was amazed at how all of the volunteers stepped up to help with whatever task was needed at that minute and how smoothly the whole process seemed to work. I had to ask the final couple of groups to slow down, because we were ahead of schedule and still had one more press team arriving. We can’t give enough credit to Daye and Triangle Office Equipment! They had every detail planned out and ready for us.”

PSF store volunteers “All in all, not knowing what we were getting into and what to expect with such a different looking Teacher Supply Store this year, all the planning and prep seemed to really pay off. PSF does most of the heavy lifting – I hope I did enough on my end!  It really was a pleasurable experience,” Smith said. 

This year’s teachers received approximately $38,000 in supplies and gift cards. Elementary teachers, AVID and novice teachers, plus school social workers also received supplies. Next year, the recipients will be middle and high school teachers. Here’s hoping in 2021, there will once more be shopping in person, so the PSF and ECHR volunteers can see teachers’ smiles and hear the “Thank you’s” themselves.

“We are thankful to the East Chapel Hill Rotary for providing funds,” said Blobe. “Also, Daye Jones at Triangle Office Equipment was an unexpected blessing, providing the best pricing and a space for us to sort and deploy supplies to the schools.”