Free school supplies still fly off the shelves at Companies to Classrooms in Bloomington

The start of the school year means shopping for school supplies. That includes teachers, especially teachers.

Last week they swarmed the shelves of a Bloomington warehouse where an assortment of classroom supplies are available for free. Staff at the service, called Companies to Classrooms, reported that lines were out the door on Monday, and that business continued at a steady clip throughout the week.

Despite the long waits for the Richfield, Bloomington and Shakopee teachers who are allowed to use the service, which stocks its shelves thanks to donations from local companies, there were no complaints, said Jackie Conrad, a volunteer with the non-profit organization.

The educators were instead appreciative, because Companies to Classrooms eases the burden of furnishing a classroom with everyday items that can be in short supply, a burden teachers in part shoulder out of their own pockets. Betsy Hawes, who was visiting the warehouse last week, said she typically spends about $250 a year, the maximum amount she can receive in tax credits, on classrooms supplies, a number that is “pretty standard.”

“It just kind of comes with the territory,” said Hawes, who teaches third-grade at Valley View Elementary in Bloomington.

Teachers are aloud to pick up the classroom necessities — things like folders, pens, filing tools and the rest of the long list of sundry items — once per month, and for many items there are limits to what they can grab. It means a keen eye and some thought is required as teachers gear up for the school year.

Last week, reams of printer paper were limited to one per person, a constraint another shopper, Lena Stackhouse-Rogers, said is usually not in place. Paper is one of the most common items to be in short supply at her school, said Stackhouse-Rogers, a fourth-grade teacher at Partnership Academy.

Teachers have come to rely on Companies to Classrooms so much that Partnership Academy, a charter school, decides its budget based on what can be found at the warehouse. “If (the items) are here, we don’t put it on the budget,” said Stackhouse-Rogers, who helped found Partnership Academy 11 years ago.

So they meet their budget by leaving off things like staplers and scissors, which can usually be found at Companies to Classrooms.

The offerings at the warehouse go beyond the basics, though, with many teachers picking up seemingly out-of-place items.

“I try to be creative,” Hawes said. “I think this place is all about being creative.”

Brad Peterson is sometimes surprised by the items teachers put in their carts. Peterson, a volunteer who stocks the shelves among other duties, will put out an unusual offering, “and the next day it’s gone,” he said.

Some of this includes relics like typewriters and old touch-tone phones, things teachers may somehow use to supplement their lessons, said Peterson, who after retiring from operating the garden center he owns, began volunteering for Companies to Classrooms when the organization began seven years ago.

Among the other items that have no obvious direct application to the classroom is the box of used keys he keeps around. Peterson doesn’t know exactly what teachers use those for.

Her knows one thing, though. “All this would be in the dumpster,” he said. “We all know that.”

But what is trash to some, can be useful to resourceful teachers. “A lot of them say it feels like Christmas,” said volunteer coordinator Briehn Kageyama.

Appropriately, they have a wish list. It sits at the checkout and includes things like a computer projector, book shelves, an electric stapler and Kleenex boxes. Student-sized chairs were another want.

What creative uses teachers may find for some of the items is up to speculation, but Peterson knows one thing:

“The demand is there.”

For the back-to-school rush, through Friday, Aug. 31, Companies to Classrooms is open weekdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Regular hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 2:30-5:30 p.m.

Info: companiestoclassrooms.com, or 952-888-7708.

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