July/August 2021 Issue
June 14, 2021

WNY retirees help distribute free classroom supplies

Author: Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT United
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Caption: Rose Ann Heilemann, a retiree from the Niagara Wheatfield Teachers Association, volunteers at The Teacher’s Desk warehouse. The not-for-profit distributes supplies to educators throughout Western New York. Photo provided.

A group of Western New York retirees are doing their part to help teachers in high-need districts get the school supplies they and their students lack.

Members from Retiree Councils 1, 2, 3 and 44 regularly volunteer at The Teacher’s Desk, a not-for-profit organization that collects and distributes classroom supplies to pre-K–12 grade teachers in schools where more than 70 percent of the students receive federally free or reducedprice school lunches.

“It’s pretty amazing; no one ever leaves there unhappy,” said Sara Rodland, RC 44 president and a volunteer school liaison for The Teacher’s Desk. She got involved after retiring from the Buffalo City School District in 2010 and helps with a variety of tasks including volunteer recruitment and registering new teachers. At the group’s Buffalo warehouse, retiree volunteers prepick and pack up donated materials for scheduled curbside teacher pickups on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Rodland staffs the entrance checking in teachers as they arrive. “Every time a teacher shops we ask them to write a thank you note to the companies that donate materials, many do it with their students,” she said.

Supply boxes run the gamut from pens, pencils, crayons and classroom d cor to stuffed animals, books, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and tissues.

Every order includes a selection of age-appropriate books courtesy of the National Education Association’s Read Across America program.

With the AFT, the NEA is one of NYSUT’s two national affiliates.

Educators typically receive about $1,000 in free classroom supplies, explained Rodland. Donations come from individuals, retiring teachers donating no longer needed supplies, and a range of organizations and businesses including the Kids in Need Foundation, NAEIR, Feed the Children, M&T Bank and Geico.

Rodland presented a slideshow about the RCs’ volunteer work with The Teachers Desk at the NYSUT Retiree Contiguous ED 51–53 At-Large virtual meeting in May.

“It’s a wonderful collaboration,” said Rodland of the work. “You have retirees volunteering and active teachers benefitting.”

John Mika, a retired autoworker and Western New York substitute teacher, founded The Teacher’s Desk in 2011 after seeing first-hand the need for basics like pencils, pens and tissues in economically disadvantaged schools. The program annually distributes more than $6,000,000 in new school supplies to 6,000 educators at 260 schools throughout Western New York.

If you’re a full-time teacher at a qualifying Western New York district who’s interested in visiting The Teacher’s Desk, apply at theteachersdesk.org.

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