Editor's Note: This story is part of The Partnership Project, a series of content written in an effort by The Daily News to follow the formal collaboration of Ball State University and Muncie Community Schools.
Delaware County is one of 48 counties that is home to The Back To School Teachers Store (BTSTS), something store volunteer Joetta Teague said she sees as a valuable resource.
“Muncie doesn’t know what a goldmine it has,” Teague said.
Each year, BTSTS volunteers help distribute 55 percent of the total classroom supplies used by teachers and schools in Delaware county, including Muncie Community Schools (MCS), said Stacy Wheeler, BTSTS executive director.
Products at the BTSTS can be as common as staplers, pencils and copy paper, but other times, the store also has more obscure items in stock.
“You never know what you’re going to find there,” said Nancy Carlson, a BTSTS volunteer.
Most of the “random” products — such as toys or decorations — at the BTSTS come through donations.
“A business that might be downsizing might bring us … whatever they don't want anymore,” Carlson said. “They come in the warehouse end of our store and volunteers like me come in and sort it, price it and put it out on the floor.”
While volunteers are required to price each item, teachers never spend a penny. The store doesn’t even have cash registers.
Instead, each price tag is there to help volunteers keep track of the value of items, so the store can inform grantors how much they are helping schools.
In less than four years, BTSTS volunteers and grantors have helped distribute more than a million dollars in school supplies to MCS, Wheeler said.
While volunteers at the BTSTS are dedicated to making sure teachers find everything they need, they are also dedicated to making everyone feels welcome.
Kathleen Schmaltz, choir director at Muncie Central, said she is a regular shopper, partly because she is always greeted with a helping hand and a smile each time she goes in, making her experience feel personal.
“It definitely makes me feel good to go in and have them know me, to have them know what I need,” Schmaltz said.
Schmaltz said she never shops for personal use; everything she gets goes straight to her classroom and straight to her students.
“The average teacher spends [$600 to $800] a year out of pocket to buy things for their classroom and for their low-income students,” Carlson said. “It is particularly difficult for a beginning teacher because they have nothing when they get out of college.”
This difficulty is a reality for Sophia Todd, junior history education major.
“I have to worry about materials and supplies that the school can't even supply for me,” Todd said. “It's an intense subject to worry about that I shouldn't have to be worrying about.”
Todd said she also believes there are a lot of students with families in Muncie who don't always have the means to purchase classroom supplies.
“As a teacher, you have to have to be prepared to be able to supply those for students, whether it's the first day, the middle of the year — whenever,” Todd said. “You have to be ready to do that because every student should be at the same level playing field, and lacking supplies can easily put a student behind.”
When she starts teaching herself, Todd said she hopes to have access to a store like the BTSTS.
Because Delaware County is one of a handful of places teachers can get free school supplies, Carlson said she hopes the BTSTS will help inspire the creation of more teacher stores in other counties.
Teague said she has been able to experience first-hand the impact the store has on teachers as she mostly works at the entrance of the store. While she is there, Teague said she gets to see the faces of awe from teachers when they walk through the doors.
“They're so appreciative,” Teague said. “That's one great thing about volunteering here.”
Contact Kayla Jackson with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.