PINELLAS COUNTY – The statistics are alarming, and the need is escalating. In schools across the county this year, 6,000 more children are eligible for free or reduced lunch than last year.
That statistic means that, overall, 50,000 children live at or below a poverty level that allows them to have school meals for practically nothing. In fact, about 38,500 of those children will get free food.
It is the needs of those disadvantaged students that drove the establishment of the A Gift for Teaching of Pinellas Inc., a free teacher school supply store in St. Petersburg, just off Gandy Boulevard and Frontage Road.
“Of course, we are all very concerned about the recent hurricane victims,” said Alice Carter, president of A Gift For Teaching of Pinellas Inc. “But these students’ needs never go away – ever.”
She added that students who can’t afford to purchase lunch experience the greatest hardship in buying the most basic tools for learning.
More than 700 teachers are first to shop
Some of those needs were met in the form of paper, pens, pencils and various other school supplies selected by teachers visiting the store on Tuesday, Oct. 5. The teacher will share these materials with the needy students in their classrooms in a subtle way so as not to cause embarrassment.
“Classroom teachers are the best ones to decide how best to give these supplies to children,” said Carter.
Beginning soon, 750 teachers from the area’s most needy schools, those with the highest percentages of free and reduced lunch students, will have the opportunity to visit the store once a month. The store will be open for teacher shopping on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m. Elementary schools are first on the list for visits, and more schools will be added over time.
“We are starting the store in a way to assure everyone is well served,” Carter said.
Community plays a central role
A formal grand opening is planned for Friday, Oct. 22, with local dignitaries and sponsors scheduled to attend. And, the sponsors have been many according to Carter. Specialized Painting donated gallons of paint and did a majority of that work along with a community committee that finished up the job. Axiom Flooring finished the rough floor and installed carpeting donated by Raymond James.
“The community should really be proud of this,” said Carter. “They are truly helping kids that can’t help themselves.”
Teachers who do not work at the first targeted schools can earn a free shopping trip, if they volunteer three hours as a host/hostess, merchandising assistant or donation assistant.
Surplus supplies always needed
More businesses are encouraged to jump on the helping bandwagon. Donations of surplus office supplies of all kinds are what keep the doors open.
“People should be creative,” said Carter. “You never know what we can use. For example, we just received an abundance of carpet squares that will be perfect for student reading spots on the floor.”
Some of the needed items include new, used books, rubber bands, crayons, pens, pencils, paper and backpacks. Sports equipment and supplies for special programs like art and music are also welcomed.
Incentive and achievement awards like magnets, key chains, mugs, misprinted stationery and coolies are excellent examples of fun items, even if imprinted with company names or logos.
“These items can be great for children,” said Carter.
Anyone wishing to donate is welcome to call the store and set up a time to drop off supplies.
A Gift for Teaching is at 9735 International Court N. in St. Petersburg. Alice Carter can be reached at 576-2199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.