Free Store Interview: Sylvia Bundy and Jen Barth

Throughout the month of April, we’re partnering with Bank of America to Stock Our Shelves. In honor of that, we’re inviting some of our most passionate teachers, volunteers, and supporters to talk about school, supplies, and some of the key areas in our Free Store: “Basics,” “Math and Science,” “Reading and Writing,” and “Arts.” This week, we’re talking about Reading and Writing with Sylvia Bundy, one of our most dedicated volunteers, and Jen Barth, our Executive Director.


How did you first connect with Schoolhouse Supplies, and what inspires you to stay involved?
Sylvia: I first found out about Schoolhouse Supplies when I was working downtown and wanted to recycle some office supplies. I googled “Portland office supplies recycling” and there you were. I delivered some supplies (and didn’t deliver some: hanging file folders to which they said “no thanks.”) I thought to myself, when I retire this would be a good place for me to volunteer. And here I am. I continue to be inspired by the generosity of our community and the huge needs of school kids in our town.

Jen: I joined the team as our Executive Director in June 2012. What a year of impact, growth, evolution for us! I am honored to lead such an incredible Staff team, and work with such a passionate and engaged Board of Directors. The teachers and volunteers  we engage with each day in our Free Store are by far the biggest source of inspiration for us all.

What is your favorite section of our Free Store and why?
Jen: The K–2 section of our bookshelves. I was named in honor of my late Aunt Jill, a librarian who, along with my mom, instilled a love of books in me from an early age. Some of my best childhood memories include reading the Nancy Drew series with a flashlight well after lights out, and summer reading clubs at our local library. I’m a big believer in, and longtime champion for, early literacy efforts. Research shows that reading aloud to young children is the single most important thing you can do to prepare them for success in the later school years. I have volunteered with and supported organizations such as The Children’s Book Bank and Reach Out and Read to help increase access to books for low income kids and families in our community. I’m also the mom of 6-year old twin daughters, so I see firsthand the power of books in our lives each day. What an honor that Schoolhouse Supplies can be a resource for this important (and growing) need in Portland!

Sylvia: I’ve always been crazy about books. Don’t like pictures in fiction, like to make my own images, but I digress. With all our technology I think we are missing the ability to imagine, to be alone with a book and go somewhere else in your mind. I think this is a very different experience than computers or video games. I hope we do not lose the need for books in our children’s lives.

When you were a student, what school supply was your favorite, and why?
Sylvia: Crayons were the coolest school supply. That waxy smell, the rainbow in the box, the crisp points.  It’s hard to worry about the world when you are trying to decide which flower to color first and how to stay in the lines. By the end of the school year, they would no longer have crisp points or paper wrappings, or be a full rainbow, and they would be delegated to the large Folgers Coffee can at home, for summer coloring.

Jen: Left-handed scissors. As a lefty, these were a rare find, and I have distinct memories of racing the other left-handed kids to the scissors bucket for the one pair we had in our classroom. I suppose this experience taught me to be flexible and resourceful, though — I now cut with my right hand.

What is a favorite experience with Schoolhouse Supplies?
Jen: There are so, so many! Back-to-school week assemblies with our Tools for Schools program have been a major highlight for me this year; my very first was at James John Elementary, and it’s an experience I will never forget. Seeing our community of supporters come together in January for our record-breaking success at this year’s Celebrity Spelling Bee  was a big moment for all of us. We just set the date for next year — Thursday, January 30 2014 — so pencil it in, as 2014 will be here before we know it!

Sylvia: I think I am a bit of a “junker.”  It’s fun to look at a donation and think, “Wow, I wonder what’s in there, and where is the best place for it in the store?” When something doesn’t “move,” I sometimes move it to another part of the store, to see if another teacher might also see it in another way, for another purpose.  That is exciting, maybe I have a bit of retail creativity in me too.  Hate to see messy shelves, unorganized clutter.

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