How a Former Teacher Is Helping Baltimore Educators Get the Supplies They Need — for Free

Here are the facts: Parents gripe about the cost of school supplies every year, just as soon as their kids head back to school. At the same time, teachers are spending their own hard-earned money on supplies for their classrooms — which is extra hard, considering they’re often underpaid. And still, many kids in this country go without the necessary supplies in their classrooms every year, because there just isn’t enough money to go around. This is a problem on all ends of the spectrum, but one former teacher in Baltimore says something can be done. In fact, she’s doing it — and Baltimore-area teachers are forever grateful.

As a former teacher in the Baltimore school system, Melissa Badeker knows first-hand what it’s like to run out of school supplies and have to fund your classroom with your own paycheck. Yet, she also knew for a while that other districts nearby happen to have a surplus of supplies that are often thrown away, unused. So she teamed up with her friend and fellow teacher Kathleen Williams to organize a swap. And the rest was history.

As featured on a recent episode of the show Returning the Favor, hosted by Mike Rowe, the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap is now a busy place, full of energetic volunteers and an endless stream of teachers who “shop” there for what they need. Aisle after aisle is full of pencils, paper, markers, crayons, rulers, and bottles of glue, all donated and ready to go straight to the students of Baltimore.

Badeker tells Babble that the idea started small — as just a simple “swap” held occasionally in schools, church basements, or wherever else they could find a space. But she and Williams found themselves overloaded with donations and also had teachers at their door who had nothing to “swap”, but merely needed supplies. They knew their idea was working and meeting the needs of teachers and students throughout Baltimore, but they had to let it grow.

With the help of an anonymous donor who offered to help with the first six months of rent, Badeker tells Babble that they were able to find a warehouse space to get the new “swap” off the ground. No longer were teachers required to swap, but rather, they could now shop anytime for free. And Badeker and Williams now had a place to house the overwhelming amount of donations they received from teachers, schools, area businesses, and other individuals with extra supplies at home.

Funded through a grant provided by Open Society Foundations, the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap is now Badeker’s full-time job. And what a job it is. As shown on Returning the Favor, her volunteers are crucial in keeping the giant space organized so that teachers can find what they need. And with overhead costs such as rent, she cannot afford to pay any employees. Thankfully, she and Williams have enough people as passionate as they are about the project, and for that, Badeker is tremendously grateful.

As Badeker shared on Returning the Favor, she hopes that others are inspired to create a similar swap in their own cities, and tells Babble that the famous saying “If you build it, they will come” is true. There are surpluses of materials in businesses, schools, and homes in every city. Just as there are classrooms short on supplies in every city.

“It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money do to something like this,” she tells Babble. “Just start small. The donations and teachers will come.”

Since the episode of Returning the Favor first aired, Badeker is happy to share with Babble that she’s received many emails from people interested in creating their own swap. She’s even created webinars that offer helpful tips for getting started, and tells Babble that it really only requires “hard work and dedication.”

If you’re interested in getting involved, or would like to  ideas on starting your own swap, visit the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap to learn more. Your local teachers will appear at your door. Badeker says she can guarantee it.

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