Adrienne Ledford established Treasures4Teachers eight years ago to help teachers get the classroom supplies they need. (Karen Schaffner/Staff)

What looks like trash to the rest of the world is treasure to teachers — literally and figuratively.

At Treasures4Teachers, shelves are stacked with bins filled with cast-offs and effluvia.

One bin finds bundles of used but unbroken crayons. In another there are scads of pull tabs. Hard plastic floppy disks are placed in another.

That’s just a tiny bit of what is stacked on the many shelves at Treasures4Teachers, a nonprofit that bridges the gap between the need for tools and supplies and effective teaching.

“The things that we like the most in this store we call loose parts,” said Adrienne Ledford, who opened Treasures4Teachers eight years ago.

“Loose parts are a part of the new STEM movement. The more loose parts you can give a child, they can create whatever they want with it. You just give them a whole bunch of things — glue sticks and glitter, foam, nuts and bolts, whatever — and let them just create.”

Treasures4Teachers is run on donations and prayer. This month, however, Ledford received good news in the form of a $25,000 grant from Angel Charity for Children. She could hardly believe it when she heard the news.

“The Angel Charity, winning that was a freak,” she said.

“I never expected that. I applied on a whim. I hadn’t applied before because it’s a very hard grant to get…(I thought) if we get it, we get it. If we don’t, we don’t, we’ll try for another one, and they called me, and I almost died.”

Tucson-based Angel Charity strives to meet the needs of all Pima County children ages 0 to 18. It’s an impossible task, of course, but that doesn’t stop the members from working toward that goal, to which they are committed said, vice chair Carrie Durham.

One way they do it is by raising money, then giving grants to Pima County nonprofits that serve children. This year Treasures4Teachers was one of seven nonprofits that were awarded a check, out of the more than 50 that applied.

It was no small task to apply.

“It’s pretty extensive,” Durham said. “They are required to be a 501(c)(3) (charity organization). They are required to submit documentation of who they are, what they do, audits, tax returns. They basically have to show the work they have been doing and the demographics that they serve.”

Then there’s the presentation for the charity selection committee of Angel Charity, where Ledford told the story of Treasures4Teachers. Their mission fell right into Angel Charity’s purview.

“A lot of us in that body were remembering Covid, remembering how devastating that was to families and how families immediately learned how important teachers are,” Durham said.

“There is such a lack of funding to teachers through the state of Arizona. (The grant) was trying to do whatever we could and can do to help the teachers have an easier time educating our children.”

Treasures for Teachers works by membership: $35 a year for unlimited shopping. It’s not just loose items; it’s books — lots of books, including textbooks, picture books, middle school and young adult novels and books that help teachers deal with children’s emotional issues.

There are classroom posters and dry erase markers; yarn and knitting needles; games, puzzles and electronics, like a working printer just waiting for a new home. Many items are free; many cost $1 or $2. Then there’s the $5 bag, where a member teacher may walk the aisles and fill the bag.

“It’s $35 a year,” Ledford said. “We’re open four days a week. They can come all four days if they want and take as much as they want.”

That $35 membership fee is part of what Ledford plans to do with the grant money.

“On April 1 we are giving away 100 free memberships to teachers,” Ledford said. She also gave away six T for T-Mobiles, which is when they deliver bags of supplies and snacks to Title 1 schools worth about $1,200 each. Finally, the grant will go toward the salaries of two part-time employees.

The organization runs on donations — items and money. One of their donors is Joann Fabrics, which sends goods that might otherwise end up in a landfill. It’s the same with their local dollar store. Most people think of office supplies when they think of classroom needs, but Ledford wants something else.

“(People) think of paper and pencils and crayons and markers,” Ledford said. “No. I don’t want any of that stuff. What I prefer is loose parts (for) science projects. These are things teachers have to spend money on at the other big box stores.”

Ledford is also asking for toilet paper rolls (the inner cardboard part), egg cartons and, frankly, money.

“Teachers suffered during the pandemic,” Ledford said. “I saw a lot of crying teachers, and then they got a bad rap because the kids weren’t learning. We weren’t ready to handle (the shutdown) properly. The kids are behind so we’re struggling to catch up. People say, ‘Why do you have to have this kind of place?’ Because it helps the kids to learn better.”

“That group of people for Treasures4Teachers is just amazing, and again, we cannot do enough for teachers right now,” Durham added. 

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