EP Award Promo

Nonprofit provides teachers free supplies


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Cassie Zehnder, a special education teacher at Harding Middle School, went straight from work to volunteer at Teacher Tools 4 Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization that provides free school supplies for teachers in need.

Unfortunately, Zehnder’s school doesn’t qualify for free supplies, but she knows if she spends her evening volunteering, her repayment is a free shopping experience at the organization’s warehouse. Zehnder said she doesn’t mind giving up her free time, as long as her students have the supplies they need to learn.

“Budgets are pretty tight and are being reduced at the same time,” said Todd Halbur, the nonprofit’s executive director. “Teachers typically would get a stipend of about $50 for the whole school year, and if they have an average of 20 to 25 students, and half of those students don’t even bring the required school list and they only have $50, chances are they’re going to go out and buy them for their students.”

Currently, Teacher Tools extends free shopping invitations only to teachers at elementary schools where 70 percent or more of the students receive free or reduced lunches. Approximately 20 schools meet that requirement.

However, Halbur’s wife, Diane, a former schoolteacher, knows the need extends beyond the 20 schools served.

“We really had to be limited with the number of schools we took,” because they weren’t sure how large their supply would be, she said. “We would love to lower the threshold a little” so schools with 60 or 50 percent of the student body on free or reduced lunch could also benefit. By next school year, she said, she hopes Teacher Tools can expand its reach to junior high and high schools.

The organization receives financial support through the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines and solicits product donations from businesses.

Since opening in April, Teacher Tools has served approximately 125 teachers, reaching more than 2,000 students, Halbur said. “Whether we serve 10, 100 or 1,000 students, we’ve served someone and we have made a difference somewhere,” Halbur said.

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