With the new school year just around the corner, Woodstock teachers are receiving a welcome surprise waiting for them at the train depot this week.
Woodstock-based MBI Staffing is donating bags of supplies this week for both Community School District 200 and area private schools including St. Mary’s and Marion Central Catholic High School in an effort to give teachers a head-start on items that are most needed, said Katie Homuth, MBI human resource specialist and one of the organizers of MBI Cares, the company’s philanthropic arm.
The boost comes at a time supply costs are increasing – last Friday started a 10-day sales tax “holiday” on items including school supplies, through Aug. 14 – and is meant to help alleviate the need for teachers to pay for new supplies out of their own pocket, Homuth said.
“Teachers love supplies, and they love free supplies,” Homuth said. “It won’t last them the whole year, but it’s meant as a surplus.”
School starts in District 200 on Monday, and this is the first time MBI is doing the donation drive for teachers, Homuth said.
The color-coded bags contain different items depending on age group: in a visit to the depot, the Northwest Herald observed art and tactile supplies such as Play-Doh and watercolors for Pre-K, compared with more practical items such as Clorox wipes or laser pointers for high school. In addition, art, music and band teachers are getting Amazon gift cards, Homuth said.
District 200 Communications Director Kevin Lyons said the donation drive fills an important gap. While the district supports several supply drives for the students, as of now there is no mechanism to assist teachers in a similar manner.
“Our teachers definitely appreciate the gesture,” Lyons said.
Lyons said the district is hoping the donation drive heralds a “typical” start to the school year, compared with the recent past being marred by COVID-19.
Earlier in the year, MBI sent out a survey to teachers requesting a wishlist for what supplies they’d want, Homuth said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, about half of the 355 bags had been picked up by area teachers so far, Homuth said.
The train depot space is newly renovated this summer after signing a three-year lease with the city for MBI Cares to use the space; MBI also is hoping to develop the downtown lumber yard.
The space will be used for future events and partnerships with District 200, as well as hosting exhibits as part of this fall’s Rail Fest, Homuth said.
MBI Cares’ recent assistance to schools has included sponsoring District 200 theater programs and St. Mary’s 2022 Gala.
Homuth and MBI Recruiting Director Ingrid Hagen were manning the tables Tuesday; in addition to teachers stopping by to pick up supplies, Homuth said a number of community members taking the train have stopped to ask them about the newly rehabbed space or mistakenly query about train timetables.
Homuth said she is a District 200 alum and personally knew “about 75%” of the teachers coming in to pick up supplies.
One of the teachers who stopped by, D200 computer science instructor Eric Lavin, said although he was a new enough teacher not to have to deal with shelling out too much of his own money for new supplies, he and his colleagues were “super excited” for the opportunity to get a surplus.
“I just always like to stockpile things,” Lavin said. “Pens and pencils are always a challenge. Kids will borrow them ‘for the day’ and they never come back.”
The supply bags will be available at the depot this week Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m; this week is orientation week for District 200, so Homuth and Hagen said they figured they could “capture” teachers while they were in town.
Any leftovers will be sent to district schools and be dispersed among teachers, Homuth said.
“We’re hoping this will become an annual event,” Hagen said. “But we’ll see.”