Manatee teacher supply donation program at risk of closing

eearl@bradenton.comOctober 18, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Wishing Well, a project to provide teachers with free school supplies the first Saturday of every school month, may run dry if the program does not find an organization to take it over.

Beth Sharp, district supplies buyer and purchasing card administrator, said the Wishing Well will hand out supplies for the last time Nov. 2 unless a community organization will foster the program.

"We don't have the personnel or volunteers to help keep it running," Sharp said. "We are down to about only three people. We just can't do it. We don't have the resources to keep it going or the manpower to collect donations and do fundraisers."

The Wishing Well is organized by Melody Ryan of the district purchasing department. For nearly 10 years, district employees and community members have volunteered to keep the project running,

Sharp said it is standard for teachers to get at least three bags of free school supplies from the Wishing Well each time it opens.

"Sometimes we would give more. We never said no to anybody who had a need," Sharp said. "It is open to anyone who teaches in Manatee County."

That includes parents of homeschooled students and day cares.

Cindi McBreen, an exceptional student educational aide and co-coordinator of the Sea Breeze Elementary before-and-after school program, said she is heartbroken at the thought of the Wishing Well closing.

"This is the type of place with the philosophy of taking what you need," McBreen said.

McBreen also pointed out several of her students come from low-income households.

"I try to take a burden off parents by picking up some of the supplies they need," McBreen said. "It's hard to

get that stuff replaced, but you know you can go there to pick it up once a month."

McBreen said people are generous in donations to the Wishing Well, with a variety of supplies from basic pens and glue sticks to magazines and games for the classroom. McBreen said the Wishing Well also provides social time for teachers from different schools.

Sharp said finding volunteers to donate the supplies is not the problem. The shortage is of volunteers needed to collect and organize supplies, purchase supplies and set up the well in the garage of the district Professional Support Center.

Sharp said it typically takes 24 to 30 hours to prepare the Wishing Well for a Saturday giveaway.

McBreen said she does not know what organizations would be the ideal to partner for the Wishing Well.

"It would be great to open it up for service clubs at the high schools to get their volunteer hours," McBreen said.

Sharp said the purchasing department has discussed putting the program in the hands of school clubs such as Key Club.

"It would give students the chance to learn how to run nonprofits from the ground up, but we haven't been able to find anyone willing," Sharp said.

Sharp said they have also tried looking to the retirement community for support.

"We haven't been able to find anybody to step up," Sharp said. "We have sent emails, but so far it has been mostly word of mouth. We are asking people to ask anybody they can think of."

McBreen said schools should raise awareness of the program for teachers and community members who may not have heard of the Wishing Well.

"We need to put it out there that we need the volunteers," McBreen said.

Mary Smith, a Wishing Well community volunteer for the past six years, said her neighbors always offer to contribute supplies. Despite the abundance of materials, Smith said she does not foresee the program being able to run without more volunteers.

Sharp said it is sad to see the program go before December.

The program started when the purchasing department decided to "adopt" district classrooms one Christmas. The first year, the department took requests from teachers and dressed up as elves to deliver the supplies.

The Wishing Well was established at the Professional Support Center when the demand increased. This year, Sharp said, there is nobody to work the Wishing Well for December.

"Depending how much is left, we may have a blowout the first of the year," Sharp said. "It all depends on what happens in November."

Sharp said anyone interested in partnering with the Wishing Well, and eventually organizing the program, should contact her at 941-708-8770 ext 2157.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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