Leslie Mason stood waist-high in a sea of cardboard boxes at the rear of a sprawling warehouse. She was in the midst of an office supply wonderland.
Examining box after box, she pointed to a container and asked hopefully, “Is that copy paper?”
As principal of Thomas Mifflin Elementary in East Falls, Mason was facing the beginning of a new school year without any school supplies. With city and state funding still not solidified, she had little expectation for the situation to be remedied. That is, until a neighbor stepped in to share.
A neighborhood coalition
The Hunting Park Avenue-based SHARE Food Program donated dozens of containers of school supplies to the East Falls elementary school on Tuesday. It’s the first collaboration between three local institutions: Mifflin Elementary, the SHARE Food Program, and the Friends of Mifflin School.
The SHARE Food Program is a nonprofit organization that works out of a former ball bearings plant in Allegheny West. The organization serves a regional network of community groups engaged in food distribution, education, and advocacy, according to its website.
The donation, initiated by SHARE executive director and East Falls resident, Steveanna Wynn, is designed to help Mifflin’s staff make up some of the “supply gap” caused by the School District of Philadelphia’s budget shortfall.
The 2012 Philadelphia Inquirer Citizen of the Year, Wynn came to Philadelphia in 1989 to work with SHARE and still carries a broad accent that gives away her Virginia roots.
Wynn said she was disappointed to hear about the shortages students were facing and that teachers were paying for supplies out of their own pockets.
“This whole school thing is making me crazy,” she said. “If we can make any contributions, and make it easier for the staff, then we really want to be a part of that.”
The opportunity of a school year
George Matysik, co-chair of the Friends of Mifflin School and director of government affairs at Philabundance, a nonprofit hunger-relief organization, said the gift originated from conversation he had with Wynn a few weeks prior to Tuesday’s exchange.
The conversation between the two drifted to the school district’s funding crisis and what they as community members and nonprofit leaders could do to help the situation.
“When she mentioned the excess supplies,” said Matysik, “I sensed an opportunity there.”
Founded in 2012, the Friends of the Mifflin School is a committee of the East Falls Community Council that looks to equip Mifflin students and staff with the resources they need. They’ll be helping to transport the supplies to the school.
“I mean zero”
Mason underscored her incredulity and gratitude by pairing each discovered item with its potential usage.
Discovering a carton of folders Mason said, “We use those all the time, but we don’t have any.”
A box full of dictionaries? “We definitely need these.”
Happening upon a container full of Prentice-Hall science books, she inquired as to their edition and jokingly added, “I want them, I want them, I want them.”
“When I say there are zero dollars in my budget, I mean zero,” Mason explained.
While Mason was demonstrably grateful for the donation to Mifflin, she insisted that any additional materials be donated to public schools in neighboring communities. She pledged the participation of her students to SHARE programs later in the year, both as a gesture of thanks and as a part of a school-wide, year-long service learning project.
“I’m out of my mind with joy because I thought we were going to open with nothing,” Mason said. “Sometimes your prayers get answered.”
“You’ve got to have faith that if you do the right thing, the right thing will happen,” Wynn said, prompting Mason to say, “I’m getting there.”