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Teachers’ Supply Closet searching for bigger space

Ashley Heffernan
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Charleston Friends of the Library frequently donates discarded books that teachers can pick up for free at the Teachers’ Supply Closet and take back to their classrooms. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

A nonprofit organization that gives school supplies to teachers in the Lowcountry is looking for a larger, permanent location.

Teachers’ Supply Closet currently operates out of a 5,000-square-foot warehouse and office area in the back of Garrett Academy of Technology in North Charleston.

The organization invites teachers at Title I schools to “shop” for free crayons, folders, glue, pencils, notebooks, paper, markers, books, hand sanitizer, science kits and other classroom necessities.

Teachers from Title I schools can "shop" from a variety of school supplies to use in their classrooms. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)Title I schools are those with a high percentage of poor students based on federal free and reduced-price lunch guidelines. Currently, teachers from six schools in the Berkeley County School District, two schools in Dorchester School District 4 and 38 in the Charleston County School District use the store.

Last year, 1,102 teachers shopped at the supply closet for their 27,550 students, and the organization gave away nearly $600,000 worth of supplies, said Lynette Duggins, executive director of the Teachers’ Supply Closet.

“It is a welcome thing for them, and they are so happy to have it,” Duggins said. “It’s our jobs to make that available for them. That’s why we need our community; we need them to find us a spot.”

Teachers’ Supply Closet is one of about 40 resource centers across the United States — and the only one in South Carolina — that partner with the national nonprofit Kids in Need Foundation.

Nearly half of the supplies that the closet gives away come through the foundation, which raises money and supplies from donors, sponsors and national corporations such as Target, Jo-Ann and Publix.

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“Through them, we get a whole bunch of stuff,” said Tracee Clapper, administrative assistant at the Teachers’ Supply Closet. “They do a fall and a spring mixed load, they call it, and they give us a donation sheet, and we check off what we can afford. They give it to us, but we pay for shipping. We figure it out based on what we absolutely need and what we might want some of.”

Charleston Friends of the Library frequently donates discarded books, and retired teachers, businesses and community members drop off supplies. The closet also uses grants, fundraisers and cash donations to purchase supplies that aren’t donated.

The current 5,000-square-foot warehouse space is not big enough, though, Duggins said.

“We want to reach more students, so we need a new home, a permanent new home,” she said.

Ideally, Duggins said the Teachers’ Supply Closet needs 15,000 to 20,000 square feet of warehouse and office space with a loading dock and parking area.

Prior to moving to its current space last year, the supply closet was given space for free in the Ashley Landing Shopping Center on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard in West Ashley. When it moved to the Garrett Tech site, supplies reached to the ceiling in one area, Clapper said, and some donors have been asked to hold supplies until more space can be found.

The Teachers' Supply Closet has outgrown its current 5,000-square-foot warehouse space behind Garrett Academy of Technology in North Charleston. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

“That, right now, is our biggest problem,” Clapper said. “We could serve more teachers and more students if we could store more supplies.”

The closet is able to lease the current warehouse space from Charleston County School District for $1 a year, “because of the extraordinary service they provide,” district spokesman Andy Pruitt said.

The current lease ends June 30, and the district has offered a yearlong extension. Clapper said she expects the organization to sign the extension and continue looking for a new site.

“We will not be able to stay here indefinitely, and we most desperately need the storage space to be bigger than it is here. It actually is a desperate situation,” Clapper said. “We are having to double-stack pallets in the warehouse, double- and triple-stack pallets of supplies in the warehouse that come to us, and we need all of them to serve the teachers that we serve. We don’t even have a forklift. We have to rent a forklift to do that, to get all the supplies in and arranged properly.”

Reach Ashley Heffernan at 843-849-3144.

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April 12, 2017

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