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Hundreds of teachers raid free supplies at depot

Donated supplies offered for Duval County Public School teachers each year

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Students in Duval County will be heading back to school in just over a week. Their teachers have already been preparing for the new school year, many paying for classroom supplies out of their own pockets.

The Teacher Supply Depot opened its doors Friday at the Old Lackawanna School, and hundreds of teachers showed up to snag some free supplies.

“I wasn't expecting 12 cops out here running traffic. I was in line for 45 minutes just to get a number, and then another 45 minutes waiting to go inside,” fourth-grade teacher Amy Pritchard said.

But Pritchard said the wait was worth it and just shows how many teachers need supplies in Duval County.

The Teacher Supply Depot has been helping local teachers for the past 20 years, offering free supplies throughout the year. The items, including binders, books, art supplies and more, are donated by businesses and community members.

"We have a lot of businesses that donate as they're moving or downsizing or cleaning out,” said Chris Buckley, who oversees the depot. “We have businesses that will give us new things after the season passes, and we have community members that do supply drives."

A recent survey found last year that more than 99 percent of teachers across the U.S. spent their own money on classroom supplies. On average, they spent about $500 out-of-pocket.

"If you think about $20 a week, man that really adds up,” fourth-grade math teacher Michelle Hylton said. “It definitely doesn't surprise me that teachers spend at least $500 a year."

Hylton said she doesn't want whatever her students face at home to get in the way of their education.

"Simple things like paper and pencil, people would automatically think 'Walmart, Office Depot has these at 18 cents,'” Hylton said. “I have kids that come into the classroom without these things."

The average salary of a Duval County teacher is a little over $40,000, and even with a stipend from the school district, many teachers are still reaching into their pockets for school supplies.

"I wouldn't say it's enough,” Hylton said. “Even more so, we don't get (the stipend) at the beginning of the year. You have to up-front spend your money in the sake of getting about $200 to $250 later in the school year."

Many teachers said the out-of-pocket expenses of their job put a strain on their their tight budgets."

“You probably spend $1,000 setting up your classroom your first year, if not more,” Pritchard said. “Most people don't know that, and the county tries to give you as many resources, but it's never enough.”

That's where Teacher Supply Depot can help.

“This is a way for them to come in and not only get some classroom supplies and tools for them to be successful, but a lot of the extras that can make their classroom fun and exciting,” Buckley said. "It's just so encouraging that there are those who are out there supporting us so we can support our students."

Anyone can donate throughout the year. Buckley said the depot is running low on paper, pencils and pens. To reach someone with the Teacher Supply Depot, call 904-381-7480. Pick up of donated supplies can be scheduled.

The depot is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Duval County Public Schools are back in session Aug. 15.