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The Sharing Tree—a Teacher’s New Best Friend

By Sandy Beck

Carly J. SinnaduraiAs a classroom teacher, I am always looking for ways to add excitement to my lessons. Often, this involves a trip to the store with my own credit card. I’m not alone. Although teachers receive an allowance for classroom supplies, it’s never enough. Every year, Florida's teachers dig into their own pockets to provide rich learning experiences for their students.

Because forty percent of Leon County students cannot afford to buy lunch, much less school supplies, many teachers must also provide the basics, like pencils, paper and crayons. For science experiments and art projects teachers need to get really creative.

Enter The Sharing TREE: Teachers Reusing Everything for Education. Begun just last year, TREE is a reusable resource center for donated new and gently used classroom materials that are available to public school teachers, childcare providers, families, artists, non-profits and others in our community.

During a recent visit to their 4,800 square-foot facility, Building Six at the Lively Campus on Appleyard Drive, I was overwhelmed by rolls of Kraft paper, shelves of drawing and printer paper, stacks of paperbacks, barrels of crayons and boxes of notebooks—all at deeply discounted prices. But it doesn’t stop there.

When most people see things like Styrofoam, wine bottle corks and metal springs, they see trash (think landfill), but art teachers see potential treasures. Carly J. Sinnadurai, Executive Director of the TREE is an art education graduate of FSU and a reusable resource maven.

Carly not only works endless hours acquiring and organizing the mountains of donated items, but she is also eager to share her wealth of ideas for creative art and science projects. Want to make unique holiday gifts with your students? Carly will help you fill up a box with all the materials you’ll need, and she’ll show you how to do it too.

Hands-on activities that use reusable materials save teachers money while also teaching subtle lessons about the value of reuse, recycling and imagination. That Halloween mask we make ourselves is infinitely more valuable and rewarding than anything you can find on a shelf at Walmart.

Local businesses, like New Leaf Market, benefit as well. By donating reusable materials rather than dumping them, private businesses reduce their disposal costs, help local schools and the community, possibly receive a tax write-off and look really good to customers who share their concern for education and a sustainable environment. You can’t buy PR like that.

The Sharing TREE is a public/nonprofit partnership with Leon County Schools, Sustainable Tallahassee Inc., Leon County government, and Goodwill Industries-Big Bend (donations earmarked for the TREE can be dropped off at any Goodwill location in Tallahassee). It joins at least 15 reusable resource centers already operating in Florida and dozens more across the United States.

All Leon County public school teachers may shop for $20 worth of free classroom materials every month. For others, the Tree has two membership options. An individual membership is $20 per year: Shop anytime and receive $5 off purchases each month and invitations to all events. Group membership (for private schools, non-profits, etc.) is $100 per year: Each person receives $20 worth of free materials from August to May.

Hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12—6 pm and the second Saturday of every month from 10 am—3 pm.

For more information, go to thesharingtreefl.org.

Editor’s Note: New Leaf Market periodically donates office supplies, parade accessories, and other useful items to The Sharing Tree.

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