On the busy off ramp of an Oklahoma highway, a teacher stood with a large sign. It read, “Teacher needs school supplies. Anything helps. Thank you.”

The teacher might have been standing alone, but she represented the majority of her colleagues. A third-grade teacher in the Tulsa, Oklahoma school district, Teresa Danks, was faced with beginning another school year filled with out-of-pocket expenses to provide supplies for her classroom.

After reviewing her family budget, her husband jokingly suggested she stand on the street corner panhandling.

The event wasn’t long, a couple of short stints raising $100. Since then, she and other educators have established a non-profit fund with donations reaching $13,000 as of today.

Her message is clear on three counts: 1) Ask your local schools and educators what they need and how you can help; 2) Tell your elected officials it’s time to “put children first”; 3) An educated society is a better one.

Well said, Teresa.

As I watched her interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, I thought about my activities for the day. On the “to do” list was an item she might appreciate.

It read, “Send out Classroom Wish List invitations to superintendents.”

The Classroom Wish List program began with a nudge from a friend almost five years ago. Heather Koehn, then a Kindergarten teacher at Slate Creek Elementary, opened my eyes to reality. She said most teachers are donating to the community by buying supplies for their classrooms.

New to this job, I did not really know where to go with this nudge. I filed it away, but it nagged me.

Until John Williams, Shift Manager of Walmart, reached out to ask if we would collaborate on their corporate initiative, Fill the Bus.

We were looking for an unmet need. Salvation Army was already doing a great job of filling backpacks for families.

John and I put our heads together and I told him about Heather’s comment. John could immediately relate. His wife was a teacher. He knew from personal experience the need was there.

His household was not alone. According to the National School Supply and Equipment Association, 92 percent of teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies. A study by the NDP Group in 2015, showed on average, teachers spend $500 of their own money each year on everything from pencils to janitorial supplies.

The need is undeniable. I really do not think most parents even consider where the teacher got the modeling clay junior used in science class to simulate cell construction. Most of imagine a “general store” down by the principal’s office where teachers go to shop.

We would be wrong.

We know this program is needed. Piloted quietly in the Newton school district in 2015, we filled 52 wish lists.

Last year, the program expanded to all districts in the county. The number of wish list packages doubled to 119.

This year, as I prepare to open the offer, I do so with both excitement and anxiety. I hope we can match enough donors to meet the need.

However, my board is undeterred. They are following Teresa’s first step by asking local educators what they need.

If you are interesting in answering that call, here are some options:

Fill the Bus will from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 5 at  Newton Walmart. Volunteers will have lists to use as shopping guides, or you can drop off donations during this time.

Adopt-a-classroom by contacting Harvey County United Way, 316-283-7101 or harveyunitedway@gmail.com. You do the shopping, or make a donation and we do the shopping for you. This is the option chosen by our sponsors, Central National Bank, First Bank, and Midland National Bank as well as many others.

Truly, every package of crayons, every box of tissues, every backpack does help. Nothing goes to waste.

Looking over the stack of thank you notes from last year’s recipients, several mentioned that this program shows the community cares.

That is the only reminder I need of why we do it.

— Tina Payne is the director of Harvey County United Way. She can be reached harveyunitedway@gmail.com or 283-7101.