from San Mateo Daily Journal, August 22, 2002

Teachers hope online wishlists bring classroom supplies
By Emily Landes

Three soccer balls. Two electric pencil sharpeners. Eight packages of colored pencils. These are just a few of the items on fourth grade teacher Bree Dougan's "wishlist" at the San Francisco-based Web site

The North Shoreview Montessori teacher is one of many in the San Mateo-Foster City School District who say they feel "fed up" with paying up to $1,500 each year out of their own pocket for classroom supplies and has turned to the non-profit Web site as a possible way out.

"We always need things and I'm sick of things coming out of my pocket," she said.

When Dougan was perusing the Web site back in July and saw a link for teacher wishlists, she decided to register her class' needs on the Web site. Now anyone who goes there can choose to donate as little as $25 or as much as her entire $445.53 wishlist for the specific classroom supplies she requested.

The orders go directly through San Francisco-based Cole Hardware, who give a 10 percent discount for wishlist items then mail the donated supplies to the needy schools.

School materials have long been supplied by teachers, said Superintendent Pendery Clark.

"I'm from a family of teachers and teachers have for years spent money on supplies," she said.

There is good reason that teachers often expect to foot the bill for their students' supplies. Due to the constraints of state and federal laws, there are actually very few areas in public schools that can be cut during tough budgetary times. School supplies can and often do end up on the district's chopping block. In 2000, the supply budget in the district was down by $20 per student, leaving K-5 with $30 per student and 6-8 grades with $35 per students.

This year was no different. During budget talks in June, $38,000 in further cuts were made to instructional materials.

Clark said some additional funding for supplies will come from the Save Our Programs fundraising team, but she doesn't know yet how much help they will be able to supply.

It is only very recently, during a meeting on long term funding solutions, that Clark heard about the wishlist even though it has existed for more than a year and a half.

A lack of promotion and publicity is the biggest block between teachers and those who want to help out, said Pamela Heyda, a second grade teacher at Horrall Elementary School in San Mateo.

"It's a great help," she said, "I wish more people knew about it."

Heyda was a neighbor of the Web site's founder Craig Newmark and said the wishlist idea came to him from their discussions about the lack of materials in the classroom.

So Newmark joined together with Cole Hardware, which had been helping schools in San Francisco since 1994, and began the pilot program.

With the initial publicity around the program, it wasn't too long before boxes from the hardware store started to arrive at Heydas school.

'It was a wonderful day when the box came with the [soccer] balls," she said. "Oh my gosh, the kids were so excited."

Heyda and her kids wrote thank you notes to Newmark and sent pictures of the smiling students with the donated materials to the people who had paid for them.

But after that initial boon, Heyda said the boxes arrived less and less often. No item on Dougan's list has been donated yet, the fourth grade teacher reports.

Heyda said people do want to donate, but they just don't know the service exists.

"If nobody knows it's there we're not going to get anything," she said.

It would also help if the Web site could branch out to include items that can't be found at the hardware store, like print cartridges and books, she said.

That's just what the site is looking into, said Newmark, but it hasn't been easy. Stores need to have the right mix of community-mindedness and tech savvy in order to get involved.

The district's financial advisory committee may also take on the task of researching if and how the service should be expanded, said Celia Gagnon, a volunteer on the committee.

Gagnon said the group has a lot on its plate right now. But perhaps with more volunteers it would be able to research what the options of expanding the list's suppliers are and how to best do that.

"It's in the works," she said.