Talim Johnson inched along toward the check-out counter, looking over her school’s shopping list to make sure she had not missed anything. Construction paper. Colored paper of various thicknesses and textures. File holders. Three-ring binders. Posters to brighten up the hallways.
She was not shopping at a mall or a Costco, but at a warehouse in Long Island City, Queens, where everything, like paint, binders, squares of Coach leather and, yes, the mannequins, is free.
The warehouse, the heart of a program known as Materials for the Arts, has been around for 32 years, offering new and gently used donated supplies to artists, nonprofit groups and, more recently, public schools. During good economic times, the place was a nice extra for the thousands of principals, teachers and volunteer parents who have visited, a trip along its wide aisles a treasure hunt of sorts.
During lean times, it has also become a purveyor of necessary items.
When the walls at Public School 105 in the Morris Park section of the Bronx needed a fresh coat of paint, Anna Cheina, a fifth-grade arts teacher, found a few gallons there. When Joseph Pagano, a drama teacher at P.S. 150 in Sunnyside, Queens, was looking to recreate the burning of the scarecrow for the school’s spring production of “The Wizard of Oz,” he used the battery-operated candles he found at the warehouse to light up the stage.
A former principal at Banana Kelly High School in the South Bronx once picked up filing cabinets and desks for his office. A few months ago, Karen Feuer, the principal at P.S. 110 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, got chairs and shelves for the school’s library and benches to line the walls of a room that doubles as line-up space on bad weather days.
“You go there for the things you need,” Ms. Feuer said, “but there’s always something unexpected, something that you would have never imagined you could find there, and that you end up taking with you.”
Staff members from nearly 650 schools visited the warehouse last year, the second highest number of schools to have made use of the program since 2005, according to its statistics. (The highest number, 697, was in 2009. The lowest, 492, was in 2005.)