Like many educators, after a five-year career in Baltimore City schools, Melissa Badeker kept all of her teaching supplies. But later, when she moved to a new home and needed to clear clutter, she and her husband decided to toss it all.
“I literally cried. It was really upsetting,” Badeker, 32, says. “Pretty much from that moment on, I thought no one should have to do that again.”
In her free time, Badeker – along with friend and former teacher Kathleen Williams – began asking other teachers they knew if they had supplies they no longer wanted or needed. She collected what they gave, stored it in her basement and then once a month, she’d set up something like a pop-up store to give the supplies away free to other teachers who needed them.
“Kathleen and I saw that the need was very strong; our basements were overflowing,” she said.
So together, the two educators started the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap to collect the unused supplies that sit in teachers’ homes and school supply closets and get them into the hands of teachers who can use them.
Badeker now has her own dedicated space in south Baltimore for the swap and will use her OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowship to expand the effort, adding more hours to the times teachers, daycare providers and homeschool parents can come shop and adding more materials for them to choose from.
“Teachers are under tremendous pressure to meet really high demands and they’re frustrated because they don’t have the things they need to do their jobs,” Badeker says. “That could be part of the reason why the turnover rate for teachers in Baltimore City is about 30 percent.”
Teachers in city schools have to buy much of what you see on their classroom walls and the materials that children use to get their work done every day, Badeker says. Paper, bulletin board materials, pencils, notebooks, arts and crafts supplies, curriculum supplements – very little of that is provided to them by the school system.
“The average teacher spends more than $600 a year on school supplies and some spend over $1,000,” Badeker says. “Every year, I spent well over $1,000. I had to buy a huge box of paper – you know the one – every two months.”
At the same time, however, many schools’ supply closets are crowded with leftover supplies from mishandled orders or teachers who moved on. All those items can surely be used, Badeker says.
“We also get a lot of excess office supplies from businesses that are moving or they’re re-branding and individuals or families who accumulate arts and crafts supplies, games or puzzles and no longer need them for whatever reason,” she says.
The supply shop is open on Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Each time it’s open, the space gets crowded with teachers who are grateful for the opportunity to get the things they need to teach.
“One social studies teacher in the city came and said, ‘I was going to have to write a grant to get supplies for my classroom. Now I don’t have to write a grant. I have everything I need here.’ That’s so gratifying,” Badeker says. “Now we just want to grow and get to more schools, more teachers. Our kids aren’t going to succeed unless the teachers are in a position to help them do so.”