It’s common knowledge that teachers do not get the pay they deserve for their skills, education, commitment and dedication. What is not widely known is that most teachers pay extra, out of their own pockets, for the privilege.
Eula Battle knows first-hand from her 31 years of teaching in our area schools that teachers go well beyond the supply closet to insure that their students have the materials they need to meet and exceed their educational goals. In December of 2009, while volunteering at a local charity, Eula and a friend worked to customize gifts to the children’s requests. As they sifted through donations, her friend joked, “Hey Eula, here’s a whole box of school supplies. Wouldn’t you have loved getting a donation like this when you were teaching?”
And so the seed was planted for Free 2 Teach, a non-profit committed to working diligently to lighten the personal financial burden for teachers in Madison County’s three public school systems by providing supplies and resources for their classrooms, at no cost to them. That’s right – completely free!
Initially, supplies collected for teachers were stored in Eula’s garage. With the help of Huntsville City School’s Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski, the first Free 2 Teach store opened its doors to teachers on January 22, 2013, in the vacant West Huntsville Elementary School. This space was graciously provided for $1 per year plus a portion of utilities. However, in the summer of 2014, Free 2 Teach was on the move again. West Huntsville Elementary had been sold.
After much searching and some begging, Free 2 Teach now has a storefront and warehouse on Leeman Ferry Road. They are able to lease the property for a reduced rate because the owners appreciate their mission for our community. Here Free 2 Teach offers a wide variety of classroom supplies and resources that are donated by companies with surplus inventory; by the generous financial donations of companies, organizations and individuals; and through supply drives.
Free 2 Teach provided $402,000 in supplies for 1,250 area teachers during the 2013-14 school year, and they are at $560,000 in supplies this year so far. Such generosity does not happen without a huge team of volunteers, community sponsors and donors, office staff and an Executive Director with a dream to relieve the personal financial burden teachers have carried for much too long.
Eula Battle clarified why they do what they do: “We are honored to stand by our community’s teachers. We applaud their passion for doing this important work and look forward to supporting them as they continue to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our students and our community.”
Have you seen the lime-green Free 2 Teach Ford vehicle around town? Woody Anderson Ford generously provides the transit, which is driven all over North Alabama to pick up supply donations. Thankfully, Free 2 Teach has been blessed by the many community supporters with a heart for service who have made Eula’s dream a reality.
Mrs. Battle still remembers their first customer, Ms. Crawford from Morris Elementary. As she checked out with her buggy full of supplies, the volunteer gave Ms. Crawford the total for how much she did not spend on supplies by shopping for free at Free 2 Teach. Ms. Crawford then confided, “I’m so grateful to Free 2 Teach because I have a newborn, and by the time I pay for daycare, diapers and formula, there is no extra money for my classroom.”
In addition to pencils, crayons, paper, notebooks, glue and other basic supplies, Free 2 Teach offers desks, chairs, file cabinets, books and bookshelves, as well as room decorations and arts and crafts supplies. Every full-time teacher in the Huntsville City, Madison City and Madison County public school systems is encouraged to visit the Free 2 Teach website to register and make an appointment to shop. Teachers are welcome every other month by appointment.
Eula said she and and the Free 2 Teach team look forward to hosting even more teachers at the store in the 2015-2016 school. “As a former teacher myself, I know how important it is for a teacher to feel valued and encouraged by their community,” she explained. “We hope to add a little joy and happiness to each teacher’s day when they shop at Free 2 Teach.”
Free 2 Teach will be open for the fall semester on July 14th, fully stocked. Make your appointment early and come do some school shopping for your classroom.