It has become increasingly difficult for families in poverty to buy school supplies for their children. As such, many teachers end up buying supplies themselves out of pocket. According to the Oklahoma Education Association, teachers in Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) spend at least $500 to $1,000 on classroom supplies each year.
The Pencil Box, a charitable 501(c)(3) organization, provides free basic school supplies—such as pencils, papers, and scissors, in addition to enrichment items—free of charge to teachers serving underprivileged children. Any lead kindergarten through 12th-grade classroom educator working at a TPS school with at least 70% of students qualifying for the USDA’s National School Lunch Program are eligible to shop at The Pencil Box for a nominal annual fee.
The Junior League of Tulsa (JLT) is a community partner of The Pencil Box. Last year, as their Provisional service project, JLT Provisional members volunteered at The Pencil Box, processing donated items, stocking shelves, and working the store’s shopping nights. The 2015-2016 Provisional class of 65 women was required to complete five work shifts by the end of April 2016 to meet their project requirement.
With one to six women helping for two hours twice a week, JLT Provisionals’ volunteer hours greatly benefited The Pencil Box. Provisional member Maggie Den Harder was an active Pencil Box volunteer. “As a Provisional I enjoyed my time at The Pencil Box because I was able to volunteer with and get to know other Provisionals who were not in my small group. I loved being able to get to know others better, including the teachers I interacted with on the shopping days,” she says.
The Pencil Box was chosen as the Provisional project because it is applicable to JLT’s mission, and it offers Provisionals an opportunity to work on an ongoing project that progresses throughout the League year. Provisionals worked at The Pencil Box at least twice per week—Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:00–8:00 p.m.
“Helping with shopping days was another thing I enjoyed during my time at The Pencil Box,” says Den Harder, “because I was able to hear about the teachers and their classes, struggles, and students. Seeing firsthand how The Pencil Box impacted the Tulsa Public Schools system was amazing.”
The Provisional project accounted for 700 volunteer hours which totals to over $15,000 volunteer dollars. Through the year, Pencil Box provided supplies for over 21,193 students and 276 teachers. Over $108,000 in supplies has been distributed since the Pencil Box opened in October.
This year, Impact Committee members will continue to serve the Pencil Box and help with weekend shopping days. The 2016-2017 Provisional Chair, Lauren Bradley, says this year’s Provisional class will be volunteering with Harvest Market, a League community partner for the past several years.
“We are so excited to have the Provisional class involved with Harvest Market this year,” says Bradley. “Each Provisional small group will get to have fun working with children and families doing something that brings everyone together, which is cooking! It is a wonderful opportunity for them to see firsthand, during this first year, how the League positively impacts the community and how much the families that we serve value our partnership and support.”