Supporting Teachers with Repurposed and Recycled Supplies

July 8, 2021

It can often be a struggle for teachers and families to afford the school supplies necessary for optimal learning. Treasures 4 Teachers (T4T), our 2020 Resourcefullness Award winner in Arizona, developed a sustainable, revenue-generating initiative to help offset this challenge by repurposing donations to support the educational needs in their Tempe community.

About Treasures 4 Teachers

Founded in 2004 by Barbara Blalock, Treasures 4 Teachers collects donations and materials from the surrounding area and gets it into the hands of teachers with their “Reusable Resource Center.” Since teachers typically spend $500-$1,000 of their own money each year on school supplies, T4T helps to offset their spending allowance by offering supplies at a lower cost, if not for free. In addition, they provide scholarships to teachers in need as well as help to support other local nonprofits.

During the pandemic, T4T developed hands-on learning tools, which were provided to students learning from home, including homeschooling families. When they received donations that were more geared towards thrift stores, T4T opened their own thrift store to bring more income to the organization, further supporting teachers. They are very proud of their creative ability to repurpose items and their team’s good stewardship of their resources and everything donated to them.

“It is so rewarding to see a company such as Eide Bailly recognize the nonprofit industry,” said Barbara Blalock, Executive Director of Treasures 4 Teachers. “We plan to use the award money so that we can support the organization in order to serve teachers especially in this difficult time.”

Campaign Initiative: T4T Repurpose and Recycle Initiatives

Treasures 4 Teachers’ revenue-generating initiative, established in 2011, is named “T4T Repurpose and Recycle Initiatives.” The nonprofit receives donations from the community, thus creating an affordable source of supplies for teachers, most of whom teach in low-income schools. While many donations are passed along to teachers, those that are not useful in the classroom (furniture, electronics, clothing) are earmarked for their thrift store, online store or recycled through their partnership with another local nonprofit organization, Stardust. These initiatives have simultaneously generated revenue, supported another nonprofit and diverted significant amounts of waste from landfills.

Creativity and Sustainability

Treasures 4 Teachers has been accepting donations since its 2004 inception. In the beginning, donations that could not be used by teachers were responsibly donated to other area nonprofits, either for reuse or recycling. As the volume of donations grew, it became apparent that T4T could begin repurposing these excess donations to the benefit of the organization and the environment. Due to the nature of the types of donations T4T requests for teachers, they’ve always collected a large amount of recyclable material. Certain types of these materials have evolved to be a sustainable revenue stream, including cardboard, pallets and books. In fact, T4T recently purchased a cardboard baler for $10,000 and it paid for itself within one year, and now all their recycled cardboard is 100% profit.

In 2011, T4T expanded their efforts and began selling non-recyclable items, such as housewares and furniture, online through eBay and Amazon. This endeavor brought in just $1,800 in its first year, but by 2019, they saw sales of more than $200,000. The success of this online venture led to the opening of the T4T Thrift Store in 2018, and by 2019, the thrift store was already seeing sales of over $95,000. Both of these initiatives have provided a reliable source of income with an overall increased gross revenue of more than $310,000. Though these programs come with costs, such as staffing, storage and general maintenance, they continue to net income with each cost viewed as an investment into the growth of the organization.

Overall, this award-winning initiative shows how extremely resourceful and creative T4T is in their repurposing of everyday items for use in students’ learning activities, in addition to investing in equipment that furthers their sustainability efforts.

No matter how donations move through the program—whether they find new life in a classroom, are recycled responsibly or they find a new home through resale online or in their store—every item holds a new purpose and contributes to the community’s sustainability.