JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

As students and parents peruse store shelves in search of school supplies for the start of the new year, Duval County teachers had a special opportunity Thursday to stock their classrooms with free supplies and items provided by the Teacher Supply Depot.

For five hours, nearly 900 teachers were expected to pass through the aisles of the converted school on Lenox Avenue looking for things the school doesn't provide and they don't want to pay for themselves.

First-time teacher Kenneth Vlahos wasn't expecting to have stock his own classroom.

"I had no idea this was part of it, so it was kind of a shock, absolutely," Vlahos said.

Founded more than 20 years ago, the Teacher Supply Depot supports these needs by accepting donations from local businesses and merchants and shares them with teachers throughout the district.  This year, they've received about $4 million worth of donations.

Thursday's back-so-school giveaway was a real thrill for another first-time teacher, Nadine Williams.  Her mother was a teacher, so she was prepared to stock up herself.

"So far, I spent over $300 on my classroom, buying posters, different materials, curtains, things for my boards," Williams said. "I spent so much of my own money already."

While Thursday's event was the biggest of the year, teachers are allowed to return once every month to get more, which Duval Teachers United's Ruby George says is a lifesaver.

"Teachers are still paying an awful lot of money out of their pockets -- anywhere from $100 to $2,000," George said. "Some teachers, they can afford to do this."

Veteran teacher Monica Dau says making teachers pay for supplies themselves is unfair, but, "You have to give the children what they need."

Also at Thursday's event, special thank-you cards created for teachers by youth and families attending the June P.E.P. Rally & Reading Celebration were distributed.

For more information on the Teacher Supply Depot, contact Christine Buckley at 904-381-7480.