Swap Circle for Teachers Hits the Mark

"I can't believe this is all for us, and it's all for free!"

Over 500 Chicago teachers "shopped for free" at the Chicago Teachers Union Center on Friday and Saturday, August 11-12 at the first "Swap Circle for Teachers," sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union Foundation (CTUF) and produced by CCRx. The teachers choose from thousands of items valued at well over $50,000 donated by 75 businesses - factories, law firms, event production companies and design agencies -- as well as numerous individuals.

Donation highlights were 120 marching band uniforms that went from Wheaton North HS to Sullivan HS, Nintendo-shaped soap, red Astro-Turf, easels from Lake Forest College, sewing machines, and projectors. T-shirts, tote bags, manipulatives, fine china, containers + shelving, books and lots of fabric, notions and paper were among the many treasures to be found, in addition to traditional art and class supplies. Even a pallet of 400+ surplus CPS desk organizers will be reincarnated as art works, planters, and individual material holders in schools across Chicago.

The Chicago Teachers Union Foundation provided raffle prizes of Chromebooks and gift certificates, as well as crayons, markers and paper which were among the most popular items to be had. Good call on that!! CPS provided hundreds of binders, desk organizers and filing supplies.

Since most CPS teachers don't get a budget for supplies and frequently pay hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket for basic items, many lined up hours in advance so they could get the best selection of the free, donated items. Several were very moved by the generosity of donors who would share such wonderful stuff with them. "I have nothing, literally nothing," said one teacher. "All of this will really help me engage my students." "I can't believe all this is for us," said another. "And it is all for free!"

Meanwhile, donors were delighted to find a home for their surplus materials, supplies and equipment. Very few even wanted a tax deduction form -- all they wanted was to find a home for the cool stuff that they didn't need any longer.

"It was interesting that many could not believe that everything was free of charge," said CCRx founder, Barbara Koenen. "And, no one took more than they needed."

In addition to shopping, teachers connected with artists and arts organizations who were demonstrating creative reuse projects, and several teachers scheduled classroom visits with the artists and their organizations. Teachers enjoyed sharing ideas and comparing notes on projects and resources. "They were empowered," noted artist Monika Neuland.

Monika Neuland shows how to make Recyclo-Ponies