'Gift' supplies to free up teachers' cash
By JAY CRIDLIN
TAMPA -- The letters and e-mails pour into Greg Landwirth's office every day.
"What a wonderful idea!" gushes one. "Best of luck!" reads another.
The notes are from Hillsborough County teachers excited about the gift Landwirth is about to unwrap for them.
Landwirth is the president of A Gift For Teaching of Tampa Bay, a nonprofit "free store" that soon will provide many teachers a source for free school supplies for underprivileged students.
Landwirth says teachers routinely spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets on notebooks, pencils and paper.
A Gift For Teaching will give them access to those supplies -- as well as furniture, art supplies, computer accessories and toys -- at no cost.
"My focus is on the kids, but the teachers are going to benefit also, because they spend so much," Landwirth said. "They spend an average of $300 to $500 to buy supplies themselves for the kids in the classes."
The new store in Prologis Business Park on Adamo Drive is patterned after Orlando's successful A Gift For Teaching store, which in four years has given away more than $4.5-million in supplies donated by businesses and individuals. Another store opened about a year ago in St. Louis.
Landwirth, whose brother Gary runs the Orlando store, received a $100,000 grant from his family's charitable foundation to get the Tampa store off the ground.
It didn't take long to find supporters.
"I think it's very needed," said Hillsborough School Board member Candy Olson, who is on the board of directors of A Gift For Teaching of Tampa Bay. "We talk every year about how much teachers spend out of their own pocket for their kids. And there are some things that you just have to go out and buy. But there are an awful lot of things that don't have to be shiny and perfect and new to be very useful in schools."
Hillsborough teachers in grades K-12 receive between $24.20 and $29.70 per student per year to spend on school supplies, though the school board will soon increase that by $5.
Landwirth says that amounts to pennies per student per day. He says that just isn't enough.
"In Hillsborough County, almost half of the kids are on free and reduced lunches," he said. "If they can't afford to buy lunch, they probably can't afford to buy some of the expensive school supplies that they need."
As a result, teachers have to spend more of their own money than they care to think about.
"I don't keep track, because I'm afraid of the total," said Susan Cox, who teaches kindergarten and first grade at Shaw Elementary, one of the schools that will be eligible to shop at the store. "But I'm constantly buying stuff."
Angela Beland, who is in charge of third-grade classrooms at Sulphur Springs Elementary, usually spends $300 to $400.
Teachers will be eligible for one shopping trip per month. They can pick up around $200 worth of merchandise.
If early donations are any indication, they'll have a wide selection from which to choose.
Companies such as McDonald's and Publix have pledged and donated old equipment, supplies and promotional items, which can be used as incentives. Arthur Andersen, the embattled accounting firm, donated supplies when it closed its Tampa office.
The irony of schoolchildren learning mathematics on Arthur Andersen stationery notwithstanding, the gifts are a godsend to Landwirth and the teachers.
The store has more than 2,500 square feet of retail space and a 7,500-square-foot warehouse.
Last week, the store received a shipment of good-as-new furniture and equipment from United Stationers Tampa, a wholesale retailer of office supplies, that was valued at more than $110,000.
Barbara Chenoweth, the company's general operations manager, said the equipment had been sitting in a warehouse until someone realized it could go to schools.
"We do a lot of donations to local schools," Chenoweth said. "I'm glad it's going to help them."
The schools eligible to use the store are Franklin Middle School, Mendez Exceptional Student Center, and Just, Meacham, Wimauma, Cleveland, Sulphur Springs, DeSoto, Mort, Oak Park, Graham, Robles, Shaw, Edison, Lomax, West Tampa, Lockhart and Clair-Mel elementary schools.
At least 90 percent of students at those schools are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Soon, Landwirth says, he hopes to open the store to schools with 80 percent or more students eligible, and someday, to Pinellas County schools.
The store will be located at 4440 E Adamo Drive, suite 401. Its opening is tentatively set for Sept. 26. For information, contact Landwirth at (813) 247-3193 or email@example.com.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
local news desks