Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap board says comeback possible, seeks ‘more sustainable’ financing

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The entrance to the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap. Photo by Ethan McLeod.

As soon as the announcement went out that the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap is closing, the responses–from families, teachers, others–began to pour in.

It was “overwhelming,” says board member Alessa Giampaolo Keener. “There were lots of encouraging words from the community.”

There are also some offers of potential financial support. While Tuesday’s announcement about the closure made no mention of plans to reopen, Keener says those offers–plus the outpouring of support from locals–have board members mulling a comeback.

“We’ve been getting emails, and we’re working to respond to the emails of very specific individuals and possible donors… It is humbling, and it’s encouraging.”

The nonprofit collects and distributes thousands of dollars worth of school supplies annually to Baltimore teachers who otherwise pay out-of-pocket for those goods. After giving out more than $700,000 in classroom supplies to over 2,000 educators over the last five years, operations are set to officially cease Nov. 30.

After Executive Director Melissa Badeker, a former Baltimore City Public Schools teacher who co-founded the organization with Kathleen Williams in 2014, announced her departure, the organization’s board decided it would be hard to find a replacement due to “funding issues,” the announcement said.

The organization has received more than $130,000 in financing since its inception, including from the Open Society Institute, the Abell Foundation, T. Rowe Price and others, plus a donated box truck from Len the Plumber to make mobile deliveries to schools.

But that hasn’t been enough to foster a sustainable path forward, particularly as Badeker is set to move on.

“It takes money to give away free stuff. That’s just what it is,” Keener says. “Paying for insurance, paying for rent–and if we have no funding source coming in, then we can’t stay open.”

Beyond the costs for its space–the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap operates out of a warehouse at 1794 Union Ave. in Woodberry–the nonprofit has to pay salaries for a full-time executive director and a program director. It’s otherwise staffed by a grant-funded AmeriCorps fellow and volunteers.

Even relaunching for just three months in the near future, after a planned “inactive phase” beginning Nov. 30, would cost around $60,000, Keener says.

Now seeing a potential path to reopening, “the board has decided that we’d like to take a few months to see if these offers that have come forward in the past 24 hours, how genuine they are,” Keener says. The organization has since set up a GoFundMe page to raise that aforementioned total.

They’re also looking to bring on new board members who can help fundraise, and exploring additional grant sources and leads for personal funders who may want to step up.

Ideally, with better financial security and new leadership, the nonprofit can return in a “stronger, more efficient, more sustainable fashion.”

“I do feel like there is a little bit of hope,” Keener says, “and it’s going to be over the next couple of months that we see how the community can come together and help us determine what our next steps are going to be.”

As of this week, the swap is no longer accepting donations. Teachers are invited to continue stopping by to gather supplies on Thursdays (3-6 p.m.) and Saturdays (11 a.m.-2 p.m.) through the end of this month. If supplies are left after that, the nonprofit will allow the general public in on Saturday, Nov. 2, and a week later, on Nov. 9.

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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