Free 2 Teach is a relative "new kid on the block" when it comes to North Alabama non-profits.
It was started in 2011 by Eula Battle with the simple premise that teachers shouldn't have to pay out of their own pockets for the school supplies they need.
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In just a few years, Free 2 Teach has grown to become a vital resource for hundreds of teachers helping thousands of students.
"My first couple years, I spent over a thou... I mean I easily have over a thousand dollars every year," Riverton Intermediate School teacher, Melissa Mann told me. She remembers what it was like before Free 2 Teach. "That was spending a whole lot of money out of pocket."
Mann started teaching in the Madison County Schools system five years before Free2Teach opened its doors, spending, you read right, a thousand dollars a year on basic school supplies for her students. Teachers know some families struggle. Providing supplies for their classroom is a cost they are willing to bear. But having that burden lifted?
"It was amazing" she said, "Because you came the first few times, I was kinda like, okay, this is kinda like christmas. Because you're leaving with a grocery cart almost full of everything. And you're like, 'I didn't have to pay for any of this.'"
Executive Director, Alison Kling, says Free 2 Teach has given out 8-miilion dollars worth of free supplies so far to teachers in the three public school districts in Madison County. "Crayons, paper, glue – all these things that kids need fresh and new – teachers can get here for free. And so, they can come here throughout the year. And they've been leaving with an average of 545-dollars worth. And we've seen that increase."
Even after an incredibly difficult year – dealing with the pandemic and the loss of their beloved founder, Eula Battle - Kling says the non-profit has emerged stronger than ever to meet the growing needs local teachers. "I taught in New York City public schools. I get it. I get what that looks like for a teacher to need to pay rent or meet the mortgage requirements and get their own kids supplied. Teachers shouldn't have to pay out of pocket. When you go to work at a job, you don't bring your own stapler and your own office chair."
In the month of June, Free 2 Teach is in the process of re-stocking, gearing up for what will be a very busy 2021-2022 school year. COVID-19 obviously threw a major curve to administrators, teachers, and students. But with everyone back in school this fall, Free 2 Teach is already signing up teachers to come here and 'shop.'
"We've got new schools opening. We've got a lot of families moving here," said Kling, "And we're expecting about a thousand teachers in July."
And Melissa Mann will be one of them, looking forward to her 'Christmas in July' shopping spree for the upcoming school year. "Hopefully next year we'll be able to get back to somewhat normal and we can get into some crafts and things like that. And we are able to get some of the art supplies and stuff here, too," Mann said.
One decade down, and many more to come for this organization – this mission - started by teachers for teachers.
"That's what I love about Free 2 Teach," said Kling. "Teachers know how to get these supplies into the hands of our kids. And it's a joy to be able to provide them. It really is."
You can help support Free 2 Teach in their next ten years. They just kicked off their "Ten for Ten" challenge – asking for a ten dollar donation to mark their 10-year anniversary. Here is a link to do that.