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Volunteers open store for teachers to shop for free supplies

From pencils and globes to flash drives and - hopefully - iPads, Rock Hill teachers soon will have a store where they can shop for school supplies for free.

Founder Travise Smith said she wanted to help educators, many of whom have been spending their own money on classrooms to make up for budget cuts.

"With so much on their plates, teachers are suffering," Smith said. "People are always going to buy something for kids. When you've got teachers who need the help, that's who we need to help.

"This will be wallet-changing for teachers."

No money will ever change hands at The Sharehouse Supply Zone, she said. The store will traffic in donations and volunteer hours.

Here's how it will work:

The store will be stocked with donated items, and volunteers will operate it.

Two hours of volunteer work equals one shopping trip for a Rock Hill educator.

Anyone can volunteer and choose to designate the time on behalf of a particular educator. Otherwise the hours will be logged, along with the dozens of hours volunteers have put in during the last three weeks to get the store up and running.

Those hours will be available so any district educator in need can make an appointment to shop.

The plan is to open Sharehouse on Sept. 15 at Rock Hill schools' Flexible Learning Center off Flint Street Extension.

Organizers had hoped to open in a home off Ebenezer Road that was donated by Tripp Leitner, a local orthodontist, but Rock Hill schools' community services coordinator, Serena Williams, said a zoning issue postponed that move indefinitely.

Sharehouse comes at a time when teachers say they're scraping to get supplies - sometimes as basic as crayons and paper.

Smith cites an Office Max survey of 300 teachers across the country that found 97 percent of them will buy some school supplies this year; 28 percent said they've cut their family budget to fund their classrooms.

Rock Hill schools have been cutting budgets for the past three years as state money for education has dwindled. While schools' supply budgets have shrunk, teachers and other employees have lost part of their paychecks to mandatory unpaid leave

"Every one of my teacher friends, I know for a fact they spend a ton of their own money on their classrooms," said Amy Faulkenberry, a real estate agent who's helping with the project.

That's evidenced by a post on Sharehouse's Facebook page: "Travise, you and your friends are incredible! I am a media specialist (librarian), and this past week I have spent over $20 buying things I needed for the kids. I know teachers easily spend two or three times that amount each month. Thank you!"

Smith came up with the idea for Sharehouse after Williams asked for her help in getting a growing pile of school supplies out to those in need.

The district had partnered with the York County Christian Chamber of Commerce for a one-day effort to get shoes, socks and supplies to needy children in time for school.

After the event, donations of supplies kept arriving, Williams said.

"She took the whole concept and ran with it," Williams said. "I've never seen anything like this come together so fast. Teachers in the community are going to love this."

Smith, an active volunteer around the county known to many as the "Coupon Mama," after her business, researched similar nonprofit organizations around the country. She quickly launched a website and Facebook page, where she spread the word and called for help.

In just less than three weeks, the project has come together.

"This is 100 percent community sustained," Smith said. "No taxpayer money is paying for this."

In addition to the supplies on hand, organizers are seeking donations of traditional classroom materials - such as flash cards and scissors - and other items that could be used for educational purposes, such as iPads and cardboard tubes.

Smith hopes the effort helps teachers, encourages more people to volunteer and becomes a model for other school systems.

Want to help?

Organizers of the Sharehouse Supply Zone are looking for volunteers and donations of school supplies, including:

Various types of paper, poster boards, maps, globes, plastic buckets and baskets, pencils and pens, tacks, stickers, small garden tools, facial tissues, plant and vegetable seeds, paint brushes, water, picture frames, flash cards, scissors, furniture, marbles, step ladders, iPads, yarn, glue sticks, markers and erasers.

For a complete list of needs and details on how to get involved, go to or call Serena Williams at 803-981-1000.