Most people never give a moment's thought to a bottle of Elmer's glue, a pair of scissors or a box of Kleenex.
They are just there.
"When I was growing up, I had everything I needed," says Amber Inabinet, a reading teacher at Minnie Hughes Elementary in Adam's Run. "They don't."
The "they" she's talking about are kids in some of the Lowcountry's poorest schools. There are dozens of schools in the tri-county area where nine out of ten children get free or reduced-price lunches because they are poor.
It takes a lot more than desks and books to teach kids these days, but most school districts give teachers only a couple of hundred dollars for supplies each year.
It's not enough.
So they spend money out of their own pockets because, in schools where kids can't afford to buy lunch, there's little chance their parents can afford to send in the $30 supplies fee most folks have to cough up every August.
Despite what you hear from that very vocal minority of folks who grouse about their tax dollars paying for teacher salaries - and they get two months off a year! - these folks aren't getting rich.
"I got into this to make kids' lives better," Inabinet says.
Lucky for Inabinet and hundreds of other Lowcountry educators, there's a place called the Teachers' Supply Closet.
On Tuesday, the Teachers' Supply Closet opened its modest store in the Ashley Landing shopping center for the first time this school year.
Any teacher from 37 Title I schools in Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley County can come in by appointment, and get whatever they need. The appointments, which teachers make online, fill up fast.
"It's like Bruce Springsteen tickets," says Marcia Wolfe, chair of the Teachers' Supply Closet's board.
Paula Huggins, a 4th grade teacher at Clay Hill Elementary in Dorchester County, has shopped with the Closet for the past four years. This is where she gets disinfectant wipes, notebooks, paper.
"It's the consumables I'm after," Huggins says. "If the parents don't send it, you buy it yourself."
The charity opened its doors in 2008, and that year it supplied 95 students with nearly $24,000 worth of school supplies. Last year, 620 teachers walked out with an average of $900 worth of supplies each - that works out to more than $550,000 the Closet put into Lowcountry classrooms.
"Mondays and Tuesdays it looks like locusts have come through," says Lynn Halsey, a volunteer. "We just go into the dungeon and re-stock."
Halsey, a former teacher, remembers the not-so-good ol' days of scrounging around yard sales and on the clearance racks to find stuff that might help in the classroom.
Now the Teachers' Supply Closet does that for many teachers.
A true charity
The Teachers' Supply Closet puts almost every dollar, every donation it gets into the classroom.
Last year, they spent just $11,000 on administrative costs. Everything else goes to the children and the teachers. That is a true charity.
They live on donations from national organization like the Kids in Need Foundation, Jack and Jill of America and The Links, Incorporated. Locally, a lot of businesses - the Kickin' Chicken restaurants, for one - and philanthropists like Anita Zucker help out.
But as you might imagine, the need is so great there is always something else. Right now the Closet needs those marble-cover notebooks (the kind with the cloth binding) and 24-packs of Crayola Crayons. They always need glue sticks, washable markers and paper.
If you want to help, you can call them at (843) 225-9895 or donate on their website, which is www.teacherssupplycloset.org.
The Teachers' Supply Closet has been a rousing success, so much so they have expanded the number of schools, and teachers, they serve every year.
Currently the Closet is operating rent-free in the Sam Rittenberg shopping center, but the owners may make some changes - and that could cost the charity its rent-free storefront later this year.
It would be great if someone would step up and find them some space, or even send a box of crayons or two.
These folks do great work and, as Wolfe says, "The need is not going away."
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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