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Teachers lose store of valued resources

A Gift for Teaching of Pinellas, a nonprofit store that has provided free supplies to 25 Title I schools, is closing because of a lack of funds.

On the store's last day Thursday, Elizabeth Frankenfeld, a prekindergarten special education teacher at Skycrest Elementary School in Clearwater, dug through large plastic bins filled with books, picking out the ones appropriate for her 3- and 4-year-olds.

Extra books would be sent home with students, Frankenfeld said, as she pulled a Scholastic Flush the Potty book out of the bin.

"Some get returned, and that's okay," she said. "Some get kept (at home), and that's even better. I want my parents to be able to buy food."

Frankenfeld said obtaining additional resources for her kids will give them an advantage as they continue their education.

"Any way I can help the children now helps them all the way down the line," she said.

The store, which was designed to assist low-income students, had volunteers and supplies but lacked the cash donations it needed, executive director Alice Carter said.

"We tried everything we could," Carter said. "The board tried to see if we could get some sort of short-term infusion until we could secure money from grants promised for later in the year."

The nonprofit held its final shopping day Thursday. A liquidation sale of office and warehouse items, including display cases and shelving, is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday at the store, 9735 International Court N, and is open to the public.

"The supplies that are appropriate for classroom use, we're making arrangements to have them picked up by the school district," Carter said. "We are positive they will get into the hands of the kids on free and reduced lunches that need them."

Barbara Bosser was unhappy to get the news about the store's closing but unhappier still to have to tell her students.

"I'm just in shock. I'm devastated," said Bosser, an exceptional student education teacher at Pinellas Park Elementary School, who has shopped and volunteered at the store.

Like other teachers who get one free shopping trip each month to pick up supplies, Bosser comes from a school that has a high percentage of students on free or reduced-price lunches. Some students come from families who can't afford to buy items on the recommended school supplies list given out at the beginning of the school year. And some can't afford to buy books for their children.

"Everything in this store benefits my kids. Those books go into the classroom. I had a little boy who wanted a book a day for a home library. He could not wait to pick up (another) book," Bosser said.

She said she has been able to stock a classroom library and send books home with her students since A Gift for Teaching of Pinellas opened in October 2004 - not to mention the paper, pencils, tape and glue that she has used on class assignments and special projects.

"If every company donated a small amount - even minute amount - we could stay open, because we have enough volunteers," Bosser said.

Carter said she was particularly touched when, on Tuesday, teachers refused to take everything off the shelves because they wanted to make sure supplies were left for other teachers who might come Thursday.

"Teachers are selfless, creative, warm people," Carter said.

Donna Blanton, a third-grade teacher at Pinellas Park Elementary, said paper and pencils - the most basic of school supplies - are sometimes hard to come by in the classroom unless she provides them. Blanton, who also volunteered at the store, said the closing was "very disheartening."

"They have provided so much for the kids that they can't normally get or afford. It's a shame that such a good resource for us is leaving," Blanton said.

Carter said she hopes that a similar program will be created in the future.

"Educationally at-risk students need every bit of support the community can offer," she said.