Minnesota teachers who pay for kids' supplies get some help

  • Article by: KIM MCGUIRE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 11, 2014 - 8:10 AM

Groups donate time, goods to fill a gap for strapped districts, parents.

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Jenny Halek, center, was among 55 volunteers from Target who filled backpacks with school supplies at Kids in Need. This year Target’s donation was worth $25 million.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii • rtsong-taatarii@startribune.com,

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After watching the family bank account shrink, Jesse Maloney’s wife asked him to save receipts for all of the school supplies he was buying for his students at the Hmong College Prep Academy in St. Paul.

Maloney estimated his tab for the year might be $500. His wife knew better.

“After it pushed up over $1,000 and we were only three-quarters of the way through the year, I stopped keeping the receipts,” said Maloney, a science teacher.

As schools across Minnesota prepare for the 2014-15 year, teachers — just like students — are stocking up on school supplies, buying everything from pencils to hand sanitizer.

It’s not cheap.

School districts rarely cover the full cost of a year’s supplies. So teachers reach into their own pockets to buy materials for projects, spare supplies for needy students and classroom decorations — typically spending about $1,000 of their own money each year on supplies, according to national estimates.

“I don’t think most people who aren’t teachers understand that it comes out of our pockets,” said Karolyn Shel­stad, a Bloomington middle school teacher.

With student poverty levels climbing and school budgets tightly drawn, many teachers say they’ve been bearing even more of the cost.

Most do so without complaint. Helping needy kids is part of the calling to teach, they say.

But educators acknowledge the financial pinch, which can be especially acute for new teachers, many of whom inherit classrooms that contain little more than desks, chairs and a wastebasket.

“You need a lot of the things that don’t last forever — crayons, pencils, paper towels, Kleenex, hand sanitizers, erasers,” said Christine Pilney, a second-year teacher at LIFE Prep in Minneapolis. “And just building up a book library for the classroom — that was one of my biggest challenges last year, to build a whole library in my classroom. It adds up very fast.”

Beyond pencils

While many local organizations help needy students buy school supplies, far fewer directly aid teachers.

In the Twin Cities, however, there are at least two teacher “free stores,” places where teachers can stock up on donated supplies for their classroom and students.

The national Kids in Need Foundation operates 32 resource centers, including one in Minneapolis where teachers can get everything from backpacks to sanitary wipes.

Since taking over the Minneapolis store from a previous organization in 2012, the foundation has helped about 3,400 teachers in about 100 high-poverty schools, mostly in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Teachers can shop twice a year and get $450 worth of supplies per trip.

Companies like Elmer’s Products, 3M, Bic and Jo-Ann Fabrics donate the supplies to Kids in Need, which has offices in Minnesota and in Dayton, Ohio. Last year, the Twin Cities center gave away about $1.5 million in products.

In July, Target announced it would donate $25 million in supplies to Kids in Need as part of a monthlong “buy one, give one” campaign.

“It was huge,” Dave Smith, Kids in Need’s executive director, said of the Target donation. “To put it in perspective, last year the Kids in Need Foundation gave away a little more than $70 million worth of product. This Target give is worth $25 million.”

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