With funds lacking, the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap is shutting down

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Photo via Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap/Facebook

After distributing more than $700,000 worth of school supplies over the last five years, the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap is shutting down next month.

The nonprofit, which collects gently used or new school supplies for local teachers, announced its pending closure this morning, citing “funding issues.”

Founder and executive director Melissa Badeker, who co-founded the supply swap with fellow former teacher Kathleen Williams in 2014, is planning to leave the organization. At this point, the nonprofit’s board members “recognize that budgetary concerns make it difficult to find a replacement that can lead The Swap into its next chapter of serving the Baltimore community,” a release says.

“Melissa created an amazing community asset for Baltimore educators,” said board president Mary Biscoe-Hall in a statement. The organization has helped more than 2,000 teachers since it opened, she said.

Briscoe-Hall said the nonprofit has applied for grants, held fundraisers and adjusted its budget, and “had serious interest from one particular non-profit,” but ultimately was ultimately unable to make the numbers work.

Badeker and Williams’ project helped meet a notorious, widespread need for teachers, who often spend hundreds each year on supplies for their classrooms. Badeker herself spent more than $1,000 during her time teaching in Baltimore City Public Schools, she told Baltimore Fishbowl at the Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap’s old South Baltimore warehouse in 2017. (The organization later moved to 1794 Union Ave. in Woodberry.) 

“When you see posters, pictures, pencils, and supplies in a classroom, more than likely, a teacher paid for that,” she said.

The Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap has operated in part by salvaging goods, from binders and notebooks to stationery and pencils, that offices and teachers would have otherwise tossed. Using a decorated box truck, donated by Len the Plumber in 2017, the organization brought nearly $80,000 worth of supplies directly to Baltimore’s neediest schools.

The nonprofit has stayed afloat thanks to more than $130,000 in total grants over the last few years. Badeker received a $60,000 Open Society Institute fellowship to expand her project in 2016, and additional funds and other support have come from T. Rowe Price, the Abell Foundation, the Johns Hopkins Innovation Lab and others.

The organization was featured on Mike Rowe’s “Returning the Favor” initiative in 2017, which also brought a full redesign of the organization’s old space, $20,000 in new classroom supplies and a year’s worth of rent.

Its closure will become official Nov. 30. As of today, the swap is no longer accepting donations.

Member teachers are invited to continue stopping by to gather supplies on Thursday (3-6 p.m.) and Saturday (11 a.m.-2 p.m.) through the end of this month. If there’s still stuff left, the organization will open its doors to the general public on Saturday, Nov. 2, and a week later, on Nov. 9.

Ethan McLeod
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