Fort Worth educators Bentleigh Nesbit and Hao Tran eagerly waited for Sunday. They made their lists and knew exactly what they wanted to grab from the Central Library.
They weren’t going downtown for books — they wanted furniture. Inside a storage area near the corner of Third and Taylor streets, chairs, bookcases and other library fixtures gathered dust. Until recently, the library had two options for the furnishings: Store it or toss it.
That changed this summer. A new policy allowed the library to donate the old-but-still-usable furniture to Fort Worth teachers — taking goods from one classroom to another.
“We are all here to help educate our children in any way that we can,” Library Director Manya Shorr told the Fort Worth Report. “I’m so used to helping to do that through books and other material. But if a chair is what helps facilitate learning, then I’m all in for that.”
The new ordinance, approved by the Fort Worth City Council in June, allows any municipal department to donate city-owned office supplies and equipment to local educators. Departments can only use this policy if they contract a nonprofit to handle the giveaway. The policy had been in the works since February 2020.
“It’s our job to support teachers and students in every way we can, and this new policy gives us another tool to do that,” Mayor Mattie Parker said. “I appreciate our city staff’s initiative in creating this program so we can partner up with our educators and give these resources a new life in the classroom, especially when we’re also saving those items from going to waste.”
The Welman Project managed Sunday’s event. The nonprofit aims to take surplus materials from businesses and give them to classrooms. Last month, the Welman Project repurposed 17 dumpsters worth of material, distributed $454,000 worth of stuff and served 3,200 educators — more teachers than the nonprofit helped in 2019 and 2020 combined.
“This was a perfect fit for us. It’s what we do: We take in donations from the community, find curriculum enhancing ways to repurpose those materials and donate them to teachers for creative reuse in the classroom,” Welman Project Executive Director Taylor Willis said.
The nonprofit informed teachers across Fort Worth, including Nesbit and Tran, about the opportunity to score free furniture.
Nesbit, a theater arts teacher at I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and Visual Performing Arts, wanted chairs for the upcoming roster of plays students will perform.
“This is going to allow us to build our stock of furniture, and it’s going to allow us to make our budget stretch even further and be able to do more shows,” Nesbit said. “With furniture, it’s such a simple thing, but, as a theater department, it’s such a crucial thing that adds up very quickly when you’re trying to purchase things.”
Tran, a science teacher at Trimble Tech High School, grabbed some chairs and desks for her room because her campus is currently undergoing renovations. She is in an unfurnished room because the COVID-19 pandemic delayed furniture orders.
“It means the world,” Tran said, adding she also picked up some pens and paper. “We have limited resources and anything that we can provide for students at no cost is a benefit for not only their learning capacity, but also I don’t have to worry about those things.”
While teachers benefited greatly from the giveaway, the city of Fort Worth also won. Joao Pimentel, a senior planner in the Code Compliance Department and Solid Waste Services Division, pointed out this event fits in perfectly with the municipal government’s solid waste management plan.
“For us, it does all sorts of good because, on the one hand, this material is not destroyed. It still has value in the sense that one can still reuse this material and put it to good use,” said Pimentel, who helped craft the new city policy. “On the other hand, we do not send it to the landfill because … it would be very unlikely that we could recycle much of the materials.”
On Sunday, 143 teachers representing 82 Fort Worth schools took enough furniture that would have filled 22 dumpsters, according to the Welman Project.
Pimentel and the city’s library director, Shorr, brought up another positive for the city: It began to gain back a space that could be used for something else other than storage. Over the years, officials and residents have suggested turning this part of the library into a reading room, a historical archives site or even a coffee shop.
“We could never do that as long as all of this furniture was in there,” Shorr said. “This takes us past that first step, which is move all of that out, and then we can really talk about what to do with this space in the future.”
Currently, the library does not have any plans for the space. Shorr estimated a renovation could cost millions of dollars because the large room is completely unusable for any function beyond storage.
Helping local teachers is personal for Shorr. Her father was a high school history teacher for more than 20 years. She saw him spend his own money on supplies for his classroom to help his students because he wanted to go beyond the basics the school provided him.
“I’m always committed to helping educators fill up their classrooms and not have to use their own money, which is why libraries have such a long tradition of putting books in classrooms,” Shorr said. “But this adds a whole other dimension that I’ve never seen before.”
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.