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One store's mission of providing free school supplies

Photo from The Teacher's Desk Website

As school districts begin a brand new school year next week, teachers and students will be in need of annual school supplies. In this Focus on Education report, WBFO's Eileen Buckley tells us about a free supply store in Buffalo called The Teacher's Desk.

"Every teacher that shops at The Teacher's Desk is going to get about $900 in free school supplies," said John Mika, who founded store.

Mika said after having a dream about a school supply store on Main Street and Northampton Street, he contacted the owner of the building. That's when he secured his site and set up the store.

"One of the things I love about The Teacher's Desk is when we began, I thought the first week, we are helping students in need and certainly that's the heart of what we do," stated Mika.

Mika worked for 30 years as an auto employee at GM. After retiring, he decided to pursue teaching and became a substitute teacher in both the Buffalo Public School District and Williamsville. 

Most recently Mika created the Pencil Project. He has distributed one million pencils for Buffalo school children and students in surrounding communities. He was inspired to conduct the project after subbing for a third grade class at the Waterfront School. Only three of 27 students had pencils.

"Buffalo Public Schools, they've already picked up their 3,060 pencils for each student. The project continues -- this is part two coming up for the Pencil Project and that will be every school that shops for us, we have Dunkirk Schools coming in next Saturday and then all the charter schools, all the private schools -- any school that having 70 percent or more free lunch -- that's how eligibility works," noted Mika.

Mika is spiritual man with strong faith who says he's on a mission to provide free school supplies to those in need. Mika also has a knack at getting others to donate supplies and materials for his store. Teachers also are allowed to take free books.

"Every teacher gets about 40 to 50 brand new books, storybooks for kids," said Mika.

Last year some 3,700 local teachers shopped for about $2.6 million in free supplies.  Mika said he receives thousands of letters from teachers who have visited the store, praising his mission, while other teacher show up at the store with tears of joy thrilled that he's offering encouragement to their work in the classroom.