Classroom supply warehouse event helps educators stock up

A room full of books, classroom decorations, furniture, bins and more that you can take for free?

Educators in and around the Mankato area have access to that every year, thanks to the Minnesota Valley Uniserv intermediate organization and their teacher warehouse event.

MVU members donate their used classroom items throughout the year, either things they are done using or items from retired teachers cleaning out their classrooms.

The used goods get set out in the conference room at the Education Minnesota office in Mankato and educators are invited to come in and take whatever they want.

“As much as they can fit in their car, they can take,” said Lisa Jackson, an elementary teacher in Mankato who helped launch the project with MVU. “First we thought we should give out bags and limit it, but we want them to take as much as they want. We have people stacking up stuff outside the building, because they don’t want people to take from their pile. People love it.”

While open to all members of MVU, the warehouse is open for the first few hours just to new educators. MVU officers are there to welcome attendees and answer questions about membership.

“We had a few new teachers come in and start taking stuff but then say the dues were too high,” Jackson said. “So we told them this was a benefit of membership and talked about the value of belonging and they were interested in signing up.”

This was the fourth year MVU has hosted the event, at which they also serve light refreshments and provide space for people to network with each other. Other member benefit services, like United Educators Credit Union, have tables. MVU also gave people reusable bags and umbrellas with their logo on it.

“We had maybe 20-30 people come the first year. This year, we had 65,” said Jackson.

The reactions from attendees is nothing but gratitude, said Brandee Shoemaker, a teacher in Maple River who chaired the event for MVU this year.

“New teachers are leaving with two to three bags or boxes full, with huge smiles on their faces,” she said. “They always leave thanking us several times and telling us how much better they feel about their classrooms now that they have the extra resources.”

Donations have ranged from kid’s books to furniture. They have had a classroom mailbox system and tables and chairs donated, too.

“When looking for donations, retiring and veteran teachers are always happy to part with treasures, knowing that they are going to other teachers,” said Shoemaker.

MVU sends out flyers to its members reminding them about the donations, especially at the end of the year.

After the first year, they received so many donations that Jackson decided to rent a storage unit.

“It makes it easy to collect things throughout the year and just pile it up,” she said. “You just need to find a good place to store it. We get donations throughout the school year as people retire or even just clean.”

At the end of the sale, the organizers go through what’s left, save anything they think will still be good next year, recycle any old manuals with dated information and donate other items.

“We also know what stuff we have set out before and know if it doesn’t go after a few years, to get rid of it,” Jackson said.

MVU always holds the event during the first week of new teacher workshops.

“We promote it with flyers and share it on social media,” said Jackson. “We have really great mentors in my district who promote it big time during workshops.”

Jackson hopes to continue the event and expand it.

“We plan to open it up to all Education Minnesota members next year,” she said. “If you can get here, you can come.”

She also hopes to get a partner to provide new items for people to take as well.