ELKHART — Teachers and staff at Elkhart Community Schools in need of school supplies for their students and classrooms now have a store and website to shop free of charge.

The Elkhart Education Foundation celebrated the launching of its Schoolhouse Supply Store with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday at the store’s location at Elkhart Academy at Tipton attended by school officials, teachers and business leaders.

On average, teachers at ECS are spending an average of $1,000 of their own money on school supplies and personal hygiene items for their students, said Ashley Boling Molyneaux, executive director of the foundation.

To help ease that financial burden, teachers will be able to shop at the store for any supplies and items they need, free of charge, to help students achieve academic success.

The idea for the supply store started after voters rejected the corporation’s referendum in May, Boling Molyneaux said.

The referendum would have generated almost $16 million over eight years with a primary goal of helping to attract and retain teachers and staff by increasing pay and benefits. It would have also raised property taxes.

“Once the referendum, unfortunately, didn’t pass, we knew that we had to do something to provide incentive and make our teachers feel valued and to make sure they knew that we were still trying to do whatever we could to support them,” Boling Molyneaux said.

She said a Facebook group, called “ECS Need & Resource Help Site” allowed teachers and staff to post their needs for their classrooms, students and school, and the foundation's goal was to provide a physical location where teachers could also come to get those needed items.

The store will be open twice a week, from 3 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Also, teachers and staff can place online orders and have supplies shipped directly to them at their school’s campus. A teacher request form is available at the foundation’s website, OneCityOneMission.org/Supply-store

“So say they’re a coach and can’t get to the schoolhouse supply store in a specific week because they don’t get off until 7 p.m. or something, then they can place an online order and have it delivered straight to them,” Boling Molyneaux said.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, teachers and attendees got a tour of the store and were able to pick out supplies before the start of school Thursday.

Kristin Baker, a theater and speech teacher at Elkhart Central High School, said she spends hundreds of dollars on students. She said the store will not only save teachers money but shows the community cares.

“I think better-loved teachers love students better, so the more love we feel from the community, the more we’re able to pour out,” said Baker, who’s been teaching at Central for four years. “And having to stress out about supplies, it’s kind of the opposite feeling of being loved, so this is like a love note from the community to us and that’s incredible.”

New teachers at Elkhart Community Schools were equally thrilled by the store.

Maria Hite, who will be a special education teacher at Mary Feeser, said this is her first teaching job and the supply store helped her be better prepared for the first day of school.

“I was able to find supplies I needed very easily and even things I didn’t think I’d need like deodorant and toothpaste — you never know what your kids might need and the kind of morning they might have,” she said. “It’s just amazing to be able to have these resources available for free. I’m grateful and I know my students will be as well.”

Stacy Reisdorf, who will teach science at North Side Middle School, offered a similar sentiment. She comes to Elkhart after teaching at Mishawaka City Schools for 22 years.

“I’m very thankful to the Elkhart Education Foundation,” she said. “So many teachers spend so much money out of their paycheck that this truly helps us be prepared for our students when they come in.”

Supplies in the store primarily come from donations. The foundation has 50 different locations throughout the community where people can drop off any new or gently used school supplies into a school bus box. Volunteers sort through the donated supplies and stock them at the store.

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