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Manatee teachers get free supplies at Well

MANATEE — Teachers often dip into their pockets to purchase school supplies for their classrooms.

And with the Manatee County school district’s tight budget this upcoming school year, they’ll have to do so even more.

But help is in sight.

Starting Saturday morning, teachers across the county can visit the Manatee County’s Teacher Wishing Well for free classroom items.

A bounty of backpacks, pencils, paper and other school supplies and teaching materials will be available at no cost inside the district’s Professional Support Center, 2501 63rd Avenue E., Bradenton.

The supplies are donations from district employees, local businesses and area residents, said Renee Hayes, the Teacher’s Wishing Well coordinator.

The Wishing Well will be open from 7 to 10 a.m. Saturday and will continue to operate the first Saturday of every month through March.

“It’s amazing what is available at no cost to these folks,” said Dawn Lengel, Manatee County school district coordinator of community involvement. “We know teachers spend a lot of their own money for their classrooms, and the Wishing Well hopes to alleviate that.”

The Well is available at a time when the district’s budget continues to shrink.

Just this week school board members approved the upcoming tentative $697 million budget for 2009-10. It is more than $13.6 million less than the current budget.

In addition, the district needs to slash about $25 million during the next three years.

“The ironic thing is, we existed before we had budget crisis,” she said. “When I was a pre-school teacher (about 16 years ago) I still had to pay for some of my own items.”

The Well is open to anyone who educates Manatee County children, including teachers at daycares, private schools, Pre-k and home schools. Those who take advantage need only bring a photo ID, check stub and letter from their school, Hayes said.

This is the ninth year the Well has been giving.

To keep it flowing, Hayes said donations are always needed at the support center, Hayes said.

“We don’t have a budget, we rely on fundraisers, community support and donations.

“We accept just about anything, as one man’s trash is another’s treasure,” Hayes said.

Past donations include filing cabinets, printers, desks, craft items, toys and books.

Not only does the well provide financial support, but it sparks creativity for teachers, Hayes said.

“These teachers are so resourceful, they look at things we have and get ideas for lessons . . . things they might not have thought of,” she said.

“Also, they network with each other . . . feed off each other,” she said. “It’s really good team building.”