During most school years, teachers like Christina Miller and Ashley Lesko pour hundreds of their own dollars into their classrooms in order to keep them well stocked with school supply essentials.
For Lesko, a second grade teacher at Kenosha’s Jefferson Elementary School, the personal classroom investment easily exceeds $500 each year.
This school year, that financial burden has been lifted for both Lesko and Miller – an early education teacher at Jefferson Elementary – and for their colleagues.
With a deep desire to give back to the community it now calls home, Amazon’s new Kenosha fulfillment center surprised 23 Jefferson Elementary teachers with $10,000 worth of school supplies in August to kick-start their school year.
“We’re committed to be an active member in the community,” said Brian Urkiel, general manager of the fulfillment center.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to partner with (and) to give back to the communities where our associates live and work.”
Urkiel said the Kenosha community has been very “welcoming” to Amazon’s fulfillment center, a 1 million-square-foot facility that became operational in June.
“It felt very good to be able to give back to the community that’s been so good to us,” he said.
To prepare Jefferson Elementary School teachers and students for the school year, Seattle-based Amazon donated two boxes brimming with classroom essentials to each teacher. Donated items included folders, notebooks, pencils, pens, erasers, tissues, hand sanitizer, pencil sharpeners, cardstock, construction paper, glue sticks, Clorox wipes and animal crackers.
On the day teachers received their gifts, Lesko said she felt as though she had appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Amazon amped up the surprise of its donation by helping arrange a special ceremony in the school’s gymnasium. School administrators called the teachers down to the gymnasium after a morning of meetings and training sessions. There, they were greeted by school district leaders, school board members, local officials and closed curtains in front of the school stage.
Urkiel took the stage to talk to teachers about Amazon’s work at its local fulfillment center and about the struggles of teaching before the curtains opened to reveal a stage of boxes and smiling Amazon associates.
“It was kind of overwhelming because I know myself, personally, you don’t have the finances needed to keep your classroom as stocked as it should be or could be,” said Lesko, who was moved to tears by Amazon’s generosity.
Donated supplies will likely last the entire school year for the elementary school teachers, according to Miller, who said Amazon made her feel more “appreciated and valued as a teacher.”
The donations also mean teachers can have a little more freedom when lesson planning and now have one less task to think about during the daily grind of educating their students – many of whom come from low-income households.
“Just knowing that those supplies are there that we can use – it’s a huge stress reliever,” Lesko said.
Giving back to teachers was not the first education-focused initiative Amazon took on in Kenosha. Earlier this year, the company partnered with an Indian Trail High School and Academy art class to develop a sculpture that now welcomes fulfillment center employees at the facility’s entrance. The company also gave tours for high school students through the fulfillment center before its completion.
Community philanthropy, no matter a company’s size, is critical, according to Urkiel, who said it shows a company is a good community neighbor and cares about the place where its employees have planted roots.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.