Closet opens doors a little wider for teachers

The nonprofit that gives teachers the opportunity to "shop" for free school supplies has grown and expanded again.

The Teachers' Supply Closet in West Ashley had allowed teachers from 10 high-poverty schools in Charleston and Berkeley counties to take advantage of its goodies, but now teachers in 21 schools can shop there.

"The teachers literally cry when they leave here because they're so thrilled," said Deborah Halon, who runs the store.

Teachers can go to the Teachers' Supply Closet and pick up free school supplies for their classrooms with no strings attached, and it appears to be the only store of its kind in the state.

The store opened in spring 2008 to six Charleston County elementary schools where more than 95 percent of students live in poverty. As awareness and support for the nonprofit has risen, so has its ability to serve more teachers.

The store began opening its doors this spring to schools in Berkeley and Dorchester counties with 95 percent poverty -- no school in Dorchester qualified -- and the nonprofit lowered its poverty threshold to 90 percent this fall, which increased its number of eligible schools to 21. Seventeen of those schools are in Charleston County, and four are in Berkeley County.

The nonprofit's long-term goal is to serve all Lowcountry schools with more than 70 percent of students in poverty, but it will take time to build to that.

"We want to keep the quality and level of expectation what it is," Halon said.

Halon and another part-time staff member are the store's sole employees, but they've managed to provide $95,000 worth of supplies to teachers this year. Many in the community still don't realize that a place such as the Teachers' Supply Closet exists, and Halon said she'd like to raise more awareness about it and continue to increase partnerships with organizations and businesses to host supply drives.

One collaborative effort that Halon is particularly excited about is with the Riverdogs, which again decided to adopt the nonprofit for its upcoming season. The first 100 people who bring school supplies to each home game this year will receive an admission ticket for $1.

"There's a lot going on," she said. "It's exciting. The need is only going to grow."

Teachers who shop in the store seem grateful for its existence, as evidenced by the surveys they fill out after they shop. One teacher wrote this spring: "Most of the items that I was able to get today I consider necessary to run my classroom. If I was not able to get these supplies, the funds would have come right out of my pocket. I usually spend $1,200 a year."

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