Clean Out Your Desk and Save a School!

Eco Lassie has asked The Artful Organizer, Shirley Jones, to guest blog today on the Save a School Foundation. My box is on its way!

Everybody I know has too much stuff.

As a professional organizer, I hear, “make it go away”, when my clients have things they don’t want any more. Donating to various charity organizations or selling excess inventory are options I explore with my clients. Too often I was told that there was “no market” for office supplies, older books, and boxes of pencils, pens, paper clips and staplers.  I knew that couldn’t be true. It was my responsibility to find a home for these items – as an organizer, as an avid recycler, and as a member of the community.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then outrage is probably the father.

Last year I heard a story from my neighbor that both opened my eyes and made me angry. She’s a teacher at one of the local elementary schools and the end of term exit exam for the 6th grade class was given in 3 shifts because they couldn’t get enough pencils to give the exam to all the students at once.  How could this happen here? These are the kids I will hire for my business, the kids who will someday read my X-rays and fill my prescriptions. These are the future leaders of our community and we can’t get them pencils? I was outraged.

I did a little homework and the picture got worse than I imagined.

School budgets all over the country are being cut dramatically and most seem to cut the classroom supply budgets first. Non-essential supplies go first. That’s just about everything you need on a daily basis to teach. Teachers are spending their own salary to buy pencils and paper for their students. “extras” like art supplies and music are dropped completely.

Clean Up Your Desk and Save a School is born

I asked teachers and principals for a wish list and. I expected these lists to contain specialty items like computers, microscopes and band instruments but most of the requests were for pens, pencils, paper, boxes of tissues and toilet paper!. (Try not to think about that too much.)

So, I started collecting classroom/office supplies from my customers and delivering them to schools in the area. Simple enough, I have stuff – you need stuff. Here you go. As I made my deliveries, I talked to the principals and teachers and the stories I started hearing were grim. There were huge shortages of almost all of the basic office/classroom supplies in every district and at all levels.

A friend wrote to the local paper about the program and classroom supply donations started pouring in. Companies who were downsizing called with cases of unused supplies, printing companies called with donations of misprinted pens and paper, homeowners called with extra supplies they have had in the garage forever, mothers with children’s books to donate, teenagers with book bags, retirement communities made Clean Up Your Desk day a regular event. It was overwhelming.

That meant we needed a new model for this campaign. We began working on Save a School Foundation and developed our formula for success:

1)    Make it easy. People with stuff call our office and we arrange a date & time for pick up. That’s it. No sales pitch, no big paperwork process. Just call and we’ll come and get it.

2)    No paperwork – No receipts, no dollar values assigned, no tax write off – just a guarantee that this material will be sent to a school.

3)    Stay out of the politicsWhy something goes wrong is not as important as fixing it. We can’t do all of it – but this, we can fix. That’s the role of the Save a School Foundation.

4)    Find partners – Partner with the Parent Teacher Associations without joining them. Most PTA groups have a charter for only one school. Let the PTA groups fund other projects within their school. For example, one PTA group in our area funds the school nurse. Another group is working to get better playground equipment. The Save A School Foundation can and does assist any school with a need. We are not constrained by district, city, county, or state boundaries.

5)    Who needs help? Find the schools in your area that need the most help. We made an Excel spread sheet listing the school name, the student to teacher ratios, the average family income in the school’s area, and the number of extra or after school programs offered by each school. Using this chart, we have targeted the schools with the “most immediate need”. Unfortunately, there are 39 schools in my area on this “hot sheet” now.

6)    Get your whole community involved – We have established “Donation Stations” throughout the community so people can donate easily. This program is particularly successful for us in retirement communities and apartment complexes. The merchants in town have found they like the additional traffic to their stores generated by becoming a drop off location for Save A School. Enlist the aid of scout troops, philanthropic groups, or the business community groups.
Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something.

I am not qualified to do any of this. I have no children. I do not teach. I didn’t even know where the schools in my neighborhood were. I certainly did not know what teachers needed.  I was dropping off supplies to a local school and I saw the very human need in front of me.

I went into the office to meet the principal. In the office was a little boy of about 5 or 6 years old. He was sobbing in that particularly heart breaking way a little one cries.  The office staff was running around looking for a tissue for the poor little guy. They didn’t have any tissue. They didn’t have a paper towel. They didn’t have any toilet paper. They finally gave him a T-shirt from the lost and found box and he continued to sob into that used shirt. It actually broke my heart. I can’t fix everything – but this I can fix. I bought cases of paper goods and delivered them later that week. (Yes, I admit it. I cheat a bit and buy things when I can’t get a donation fast enough, because it’s the right thing to do.)

There are lots of similar stories – each one has a human heart – each one makes my resolve to have a Save A School Foundation in every community that wants one.

I have been to one small migrant community public school and they only had 14 books in their little library room. When I asked the teacher/librarian about the obvious shortage, she explained, “Our students are almost all children of field workers who move from crop to crop throughout the seasons and often the books go with them.” She continues, “I like the idea that someplace, there is a field worker eating his lunch trying to read Tom Sawyer.” That may be a great visual for her but that school still needs more books. I can fix that. They get regular donations of children’s books from Save A School now.

Another school has a “band” because most of the 4th graders wanted to take music of some kind. So, they have a group of singers who chant the rhythm, a rubber band over a box group for the string section, and a pencil on a pot lid group keeping time for the marching band. They practice with great enthusiasm and some degree of skill but their teacher would like to have some classical music CD’s to share with his student to inspire them to even greater achievements. We are working on fixing this one now.

Save A School Foundation became a win-win-win for the donors, the schools, and for the kids. The huge growth of the campaign in just a few months indicates that the community will help if they are asked. So ask.

Anyone interested in starting a similar campaign, donate to the cause, or just wanting to chat about the project, can contact me at or and I’ll be glad to help.

Shirley Jones is a professional organizer, lecturer, writer and a serial entrepreneur. She is the Creative Director of The Artful Organizer (TAO) a design and systems management company specializing in Elders-in-transition and repurposing projects. The parent company, California Wonder Company is a general construction company implementing sustainable products into residential housing and dedicated to the efficient use of resources for every project.  She is a founding member of the Save a School Foundation which distributes donated classroom supplies to K-12 schools. For three decades, Shirley has balanced the art of good design with the science of order to save time, money and stress for her clients.

“Clean Up Your Desk and Save A School”

Here’s a wish list from the teachers:

  • Pencils W/erasers
  • File Folders – manila and colored
  • Masking Tape
  • Binder Clips
  • Single hole Punch
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Rolls of art paper
  • Pens
  • Hi lighters
  • Scissors
  • Markers/Sharpies
  • Erasers
  • Crayons
  • Colored-pencils
  • Glue sticks
  • Folders
  • Post it notes
  • Note paper
  • Construction Paper
  • White & color paper
  • Pencil boxes
  • 3 ring binders
  • Index cards
  • Spiral notebooks
  • 3 hole binder paper
  • White glue

AND some things you might not think about…

  • New or gently used books (Age 3 – 17  in English or Spanish)
  • Band instruments (flute, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, or guitar)
  • Puzzles & brain teasers
  • Maps
  • Stickers
  • Clip Boards
  • digital cameras
  • Sports equipment
    (tennis balls and racquets, footballs, basketballs)
  • CD’s Classical music/kids music
  • Rock & minerals
    Solar calculators
  • Games (checkers, chess, cards, jacks, marbles)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Tissues
  • Wet wipes/baby wipes
  • Toilet Paper !!!


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About auntiemwrites

I'm a retired RN, full-time writer who lives in a very rural area in coastal NC. I live here with Doc and our 7 yr old Spinone, Radar. We have 3 grown married sons. On a daily basis we see deer, tons of birds including blue birds and woodpeckers, shore birds and the occasional black bear, and love living on the Pungo River, perfect for a writer. My award-wininng mystery, THE BLUE VIRGIN, is set in Oxford, UK, and is the first of a series featuring American Nora Tierney. Book 2, THE GREEN REMAINS, follows Nora's move to Cumbria. Book 3, THE SCARLET WENCH, has her getting mixed up in murder yet again!

2 thoughts on “Clean Out Your Desk and Save a School!

  1. What a wonderful program. Thank you for all your hard work. My local schools may not be impacted directly, but as the daughter of a (now retired) teacher, and friend to many more this touches my heart. I know how hard they struggle.

    I’m planning an employee function and was contemplating ways to “give back” as part of it. I think you’ve just given me the answer.

  2. LOVE this! It’s amazing how little the public schools have and get. My husband was THROWING AWAY cases of checks a client had ordered, paid for and decided they didn’t want. I took those checks to the school and the teachers snapped them up as paper for students to draw and doodle on–they simply ripped off the “check” and perfectly good plain paper remained. One teacher even used the checks to augment their “class store.” One private group’s “trash” is almost always “treasure” in public schools.

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