published Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Hamilton County teachers load up on free supplies from Stuff the Bus campaign

Tyner Middle special education teacher Stephanie Montgomery picks out school supplies Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, on the first shopping day at the Hamilton County PTA Teacher Supply Depot, formerly the Mary Ann Garber school, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Teachers from across the area stocked up on free school supplies donated in United Way of Chattanooga's "Stuff the Bus" school supply drive.
Tyner Middle special education teacher Stephanie Montgomery picks out school supplies Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, on the first shopping day at the Hamilton County PTA Teacher Supply Depot, formerly the Mary Ann Garber school, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Teachers from across the area stocked up on free school supplies donated in United Way of Chattanooga's "Stuff the Bus" school supply drive.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

It was a teacher's dream come true: cases full of pencils and markers. Notebooks stacked from floor to ceiling. A whole room stuffed with art supplies.

And all of it was free.

More than 400 Hamilton County teachers took part in a $50,000 shopping spree Saturday at the annual Teacher Supply Depot. The Hamilton County Council of PTAs event is made possible by individual and business donations made during the United Way's Stuff the Bus campaign.

With more than $50,000 in supplies on hand, organizers said this year's drive was the most successful to date. The annual event is designed to help teachers and students alike, providing supplies that would otherwise be paid for out of teachers' pockets.

"It helps out a lot," said Tammy Sanders, a school psychologist at Hardy Elementary and Lakesite Elementary. "We have to buy a lot of supplies for the kids, because not everybody can afford notebook paper and pencils. So now I have a stockpile for kids who need it."

The supplies on hand Saturday ranged from rudimentary art supplies like used plastic bottles to more expensive finds like laptop bags and projectors.

Soddy-Daisy Middle School instructional coach and librarian Karen Smith discovered several printer cartridges compatible with her school's printer. Normally, they would cost more than $100 apiece.

"I hit the jackpot today," she said. "Because of the printer cartridges, I've got over $1,000 in my buggy."

Like a scene from the old television show "Supermarket Sweep," teachers were given 30 minutes to hustle through several rooms stocked full of materials at the former Mary Ann Garber School. They filled buckets, baskets and buggies with products, as organizers counted down the time remaining.

"You're getting the countdown the whole time," Smith said. "It's kind of a race."

Teachers said the annual shopping makes their job a little easier, saving them from dipping into their bank accounts or asking parents for more donations. A national survey of teachers by the National School Supply and Equipment Association found that teachers on average spent $945 out of their own pockets on classroom materials last school year.

"I'm fortunate to have parents that are really supportive, but there are some things I don't feel like I can ask them to buy," said Apison Elementary third-grade teacher Taryn Painter. "It's nice to be able to just come in and get lots of what I need."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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