In Baltimore City, a volunteer-supported school-supply truck can often be seen making its colorful rounds through the city. Since 2018, the Baltimore City Supply Mobile has circulated between city schools to deliver pencils, paper, notebooks, and more to the teachers and students who need them.
This genius program was started by, of course, a classroom teacher. Melissa Badeker taught for Baltimore City Schools from 2007–2012. When she quit, she had nowhere to donate her leftover classroom supplies. So she did what any former teacher would. She and a friend turned cofounder began monthly swaps at whatever community center would donate the space.
Badeker found a way to serve the needs of her community in a way that she never could have inside the classroom.
Soon, the demand outgrew her capacity. Badeker and her friend were working full time at their day jobs and running the supply swap on the weekends. With the help of a donor and a fellowship from the Open Society Institute Baltimore, Badeker was able to turn the grassroots program into a full-time nonprofit in 2014. Housed in a warehouse, the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap allows teachers to come during designated hours and collect free, donated school supplies.
But the need to reach more teachers still existed. So in 2018, they added a new program—the Teacher Supply Mobile. In its first year, the Supply Mobile visited 34 schools. The goal for 2019 is to reach 50.
So what does the school supply truck deliver?
Mostly paper, pencils, and notebooks—the biggest needs, according to Baltimore City teachers. The Supply Mobile also carries specialty items, like posters, decorations, science materials, math manipulatives, and imaginative play items.
To sign up for a delivery from the Supply Mobile, a school, after-school program, or summer program must simply fill out an application and provide Teacher Supply Swap with a parking spot, date, and time to arrive.
When the Supply Mobile rolls into the parking lot, teachers are able to hop in and go shopping—for free.
The innovative and simple program is an extension of the Teacher Supply Swap, which is still located in a warehouse along with the Maryland Book Bank.
The first visit is always free, and after that members pay $45 for yearly unlimited access. On average, members collect $500 worth of free school supplies in a year, and some members have collected $6,000 worth of materials since the Supply Swap opened in 2014.
Badeker says the Teacher Supply Swap is especially helpful for first-time teachers, who often do not get any monetary assistance from their schools to buy supplies. With Badeker’s program, new teachers are able to set up and stock their entire classrooms with free materials.
The Teacher Supply Swap and Supply Mobile also save new and seasoned teachers alike from having to spend lots of time writing DonorsChoose.org projects and other grants to buy school supplies. This frees up time to do the important work of teaching.
What is the secret to fueling the Teacher Supply Swap and Supply Mobile?
It’s more than gasoline. Badeker believes in the power of community and says she could not run her program alone. The brightly colored Supply Mobile was donated by Len the Plumber and painted by local art teachers. Every week, dozens of volunteers spend hours sorting donations and organizing the Supply Swap’s inventory so that the store and the truck are ready to go for their eager “customers.”
There are even people across the nation taking inspiration from the Teacher Supply Swap. Badeker has received phone calls from people in other districts, towns, and cities, seeing what she is doing and figuring out a way to do something similar in their communities. Because of this, she offers consulting services to anyone who has an interest in learning how to build a similar program from the ground up, like she has. Her first client was the Iowa Teacher Supply Swap. To inquire, contact her via the Teacher Supply Swap website.
“Not having supplies is detrimental to learning,” says Badeker. There are so many obstacles to success in a child’s life, making it harder for that child to succeed. Delivering supplies is a simple, yet mighty, way to make a difference. There is no reason why we can’t do that.
Would you like a school supply truck to come to your community? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers Chat group on Facebook.