CHAMPAIGN – Schools are always in need of more notebooks, pens and highlighters. But towels, sheets, and pots and pans?
The Champaign and Urbana school districts make good use of those items too. There are always families in need, whether they are fleeing Hurricane Katrina, made homeless by a fire, or starting over because of domestic problems.
The school districts regularly get merchandise from the local Bed Bath & Beyond and Office Depot stores through the C-U Schools Foundation's affiliation with Gifts In Kind International, a charitable organization that coordinates donations of consumer goods from retail businesses. Each school district pays a fee of about $300 per year to be affiliated with the local stores through Gifts In Kind.
"We've been able to do some really exciting things with this partnership," said Gail Rost, executive director of the C-U Schools Foundation. "I'm all about scrounging."
The school districts alternate in accepting donations of excess merchandise from the stores.
Bed Bath & Beyond usually makes a donation weekly, Rost said, and Office Depot, monthly.
"We're talking mountains of stuff, thousands of dollars worth of stuff," she said.
The rules of their agreement with the organization specify the school districts can't resell any merchandise.
"Businesses can write this stuff off. It becomes a donation," Rost said. "They get rid of their extra inventory, and kids and families benefit."
From Office Depot, the districts might get anything from notebooks and pencils to filing cabinets and desk equipment.
"We never know exactly what we're going to get," Rost said. "One time we got hundreds of calendars. Well, guess what every first-grade classroom has to do? A calendar unit."
Audrey Keaton-Mock, the parent coordinator for the Champaign school district's Family Information Center, picked up a load of items from Bed Bath & Beyond last week. She set aside a box for a family that had moved because of domestic problems and left all their household goods behind.
Mock sets out the items from the store on tables at the Family Information Center, then e-mails the schools so they can tell families in need they can come pick up anything they can use.
"They really have some nice things," Mock said. "We've had towels, sheets, silverware, pots and pans. (The families) are very appreciative."
In Urbana, the household goods are directed to the district's special needs classrooms, with students who are profoundly disabled.
"We have a need for towels and sheets and a lot of things a normal school classroom doesn't use at all," said Urbana school district spokeswoman, Kathy Wallig.
The district also provides items for families in need through school social workers, she said. In the past, the district received items from Jo-Ann Fabrics that were used by art teachers, Wallig said.