Since 1997, Crayons to Computers – an affiliate of the Kids in Need Foundation (KINF) – has contributed more than $156 million dollars’ worth of donated school supplies to Cincinnati’s underserved classrooms. Their free teacher supply store provides basic school supplies like pencils, crayons, books, notebooks and more to 155,000 students in over 600 schools in 16 counties throughout the Greater Cincinnati area.
“We are in the business of salvaging a lot of materials and we are also in the business of providing kids what they need to excel in school,” said Stephen Bernstein, Director of Marketing & Communications at Crayons to Computers.
According to the US Census, approximately one out of five children in the Greater Cincinnati area lives in poverty. Without Crayons to Computers’ work, many of these students wouldn’t have the basic tools for a good education.
For every $1 donated, Crayons to Computers is able to provide $10 worth of school supplies. And anyone can donate, from individuals to large corporations. For example, organizations like Staples donate shredders, notebooks, pencils and other school supplies. The local Kroger grocery store donates ice cream containers with old or overprinted designs, which teachers can use to organize paint, pencils and other classroom supplies. If you live in the Cincy area, you can even register your Kroger Plus Card to have a portion of your purchases donated to Crayons to Computers.
To help Cincinnati youth outside of the classroom, Crayons to Computers also collaborates with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) and the Ohio Department of Youth Services (ODYS). As part of their Crafts with Conviction program, inmates in the area’s 16 prisons make puppets out of felt, bags for the teachers and all sorts of learning tools.
“The Crafts with Conviction program is one of the best ways that we take recycled materials that would potentially go to the landfill and turn them into classroom materials. A lot of donated materials come from businesses to use in the classroom.”
Stephen Bernstein | Crayons to Computers
Mitsubishi Electric is one of the businesses using the Crafts with Conviction program to turn their trash into learning materials. Plastic carriers that would usually be recycled or sent to a landfill are transformed into educational tools called “turn and learns”–tubes drilled with holes, revealing math problems and their answers for students.
About 20 years ago, Leadership Cincinnati visited Woodward Highschool as part of their classroom education day. During the visit, they found out that teachers were selling pencils and other school supplies to students because they couldn’t afford to keep purchasing supplies out of pocket. After investigating further, Leadership Cincinnati found that it wasn’t unusual for teachers to spend $500-$800 on supplies in one school year. In response, they created the Crayons to Computers program.
Originally, the organization operated out of a local food bank, serving just a three-mile radius. But teachers rushed to stock up on the supplies their classrooms needed. Over the years, the need continued to grow, pushing them to upgrade to their much larger facility today.
In 2014, Crayons to Computers launched their Mobile Outreach Program to deliver donated school supplies to many of the neediest classrooms. During the 2016-17 school year, this program served 72 schools in 12 counties.
Bernstein explains that teachers at schools with at least 60 percent of students on free or reduced lunches are qualified to shop the Crayons to Computer store. “In Greater Cincinnati, there are a number of schools with us that are 80 to 100 percent free or reduced lunches.”
For families in need, a pencil goes a long way. Crayons to Computers makes these fundamental tools available to classrooms, providing each student with an equal opportunity to learn well and dream big.
This is part of a Dumpsters.com series highlighting sustainable organizations working to revitalize their communities. If you are in the Cincinnati area, learn how you can donate school supplies to kids in need near you.