In her 22 years at Johnston Square Elementary School, Janice Shelford has spent more than $15,000 of her own money at the Dollar Store and Staples for school supplies for her students. But as of Thursday, she and dozens of other teachers will be heading to a new supply store whose impact on their classrooms will be priceless — literally.
Johnston Square served as the launch site of the Wish-List Depot, a nonprofit organization that set up a free store where the school's 24 teachers, and eventually 54 others from three neighboring schools, can stock up on classroom supplies at no cost to the schools or the teachers.
"It has been quite a cost, but the kids just love to have new things," Shelford said. "And you can see the value in their smiles when they hold a new marker."
City and business leaders gathered for a ribbon-cutting at the school Thursday, where the organization's president, local businesswoman and Johnston Square alumna Sharon Jones-Matthews, unveiled the first depot.
Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young cut the ribbon and was the first to enter the depot, gazing appreciatively at the bright-green walls and meticulously organized rows of supplies that will greet area teachers, who can make at least one shopping trip every month.
The organization hopes to open 23 more depots in the next five years, and the stores will be located in Title I schools, which serve the school system's poorest students. In addition to Johnston Square, teachers from Cecil, Dr. Rayner Brown and Dr. Bernard Harris elementary schools will eventually shop at the school's depot.
Jones-Matthews said she was inspired to start the program four years ago, drawing from her childhood growing up in public housing near Johnston Square and later as a teacher's aide at Roland Park Elementary/Middle, where she ran a reading program.
"I found myself spending so much money on things to get them motivated to learn, and I wondered if every teacher did that," Jones-Matthews said. "I asked around and quickly found out that's a sacrifice that they all make."
"Growing up in city schools, I didn't know as a child that whatever my teachers gave me when I didn't have [something] was oftentimes coming from their own pockets," she added. "This was my way of giving back."
Jones-Matthews tapped business friends, such as the nonprofit's biggest sponsor, Kevin Johnson of the Commercial Group, as well as family and other friends to begin the depot.
The organization held fundraisers and solicited donations to stock the shelves.
Williams then pitched the idea to first-year Principal Raymond Braxton to revamp an unused portable classroom connected to Johnston Square.
"I said, 'You want to open a what, and I don't have to pay?' " Braxton said. "This is going to give [our teachers] an avenue to do extra things in the classroom and allow me to divert resources to other positive incentives for students."
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