Tissue may be an inexpensive after thought when it comes to classroom necessities, but when you’ve got a school full of sick children it’s the first thing on a teacher’s mind. And often times it’s not available.

Mary Alice Rally, a retired educator in Broward County, explained that a limited number of tissue boxes are allocated to each classroom every year. But when the tissue inevitably ran out midyear, school administration could do nothing but write it off as tough luck. Meanwhile, Rally felt lucky if she could get her students to show up with the basic necessities – like paper and pencil.

This is why the Broward Education Foundation’s groundbreaking “Tools for Schools” program was hailed as a much-needed program in the county six years ago.

Meanwhile, the Pride Center in Wilton Manors, has stepped in to help the void by participating in the program for the last 5 years.  

The school drive runs through August 26 so there’s still plenty of time to swing by a Dollar General, Office Depot, or Staples to pick up some scholastic goods for Broward County school kids in need.

One reality of the public education system in Broward, and across the country, is that schools and families don't have enough resources to support their students. Many teachers will tell you that they have paid for classroom provisions out of their own paychecks. That's why, six years ago, the Broward Education Foundation (BEF) came out with their groundbreaking “Tools for Schools” program.

Every year, this initiative provides $60,000 worth of academic necessities to teachers and students. Christina Fischer, BEF Chair, says the Pride Center is one of their favorite collaborators, a “rock star” producing bigger and better results every year.

According to Pride Center CEO Robert Boo, the coalition of community supporters also includes SAGE (Advocacy and Services for LGBT Seniors), WIN (Women in Action), and The Church of the Holy Spirit.

This year’s School Supply Drive officially kicked off at the GLBX’s “After Hours Networker” on July 13.

The classy but down-to-earth networking event was sponsored by James Senior from Edward Jones and Seasons 52 Catering. Mingling over swanky jazz, an eclectic mix of LGBT folks, ranging from bankers rocking full suits to psychic healers in T-shirt and shorts, all wore smiles. But the upbeat vibe of the networking event, which included an open bar and delicious hors d’oeuvres from Seasons 52, did not distract from the gravity of the fundraiser’s mission.

Fischer drove the point home from the Pride Center podium.

“Many parents have to decide between a ream of paper and a gallon of milk. Because of generous donors like you, they don't have to make that choice.” Fischer also pointed out the disproportionate impact that poverty has on LGBT kids, approximately 900 of whom are homeless in Broward Country, most often as a result of family circumstances, including rejection.

The generosity of Tools for Schools and our community also helps relieve the unfair pressure on our teachers—people like Mary Alice Rally, whose career spanned 40 years, with 35 of those years in Broward County. Last year was Rally’s final year at Forest Glenn Middle School where she worked as a special educator.

Forest Glenn is a Title 1 school, meaning more than 50 percent of its students receive free or reduced lunch. Many of her students had parents working multiple jobs who still couldn't afford all of the supplies needed for school. For years, Rally paid out of her own pocket to buy necessities for her students.

As a result, Rally developed a reputation at Office Depot, especially at their annual “penny sales” in July. Because of their corporate policy limiting the number of sale items per customer, Rally would go from one store location to another and another, buying as many affordable supplies as she could.

It was quite the ordeal.

Then she heard about Tools for Schools and their Pompano warehouse where she could shop for free. Broward Education Foundation became a game-changer for Rally and her colleagues.

Collection bins for school supplies are available in the front lobby in the Pride Center at Equality Park on Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors. You can drop off any and all items like backpacks, pens, pencils, notebooks, binders, and even art supplies. In return, you might just pick up some good karma for your good deed.

Tools for Schools is only one program offered by the Broward Education Foundation. Check out their website at BrowardEdFoundation.org. They are always looking for support in the form of volunteers, expertise, and donations.