RAFT is a non-profit organization and an oasis in the sea of declining education budgets and salaries. It's purpose is to help educators transform a child's learning experience through hands-on education to one that inspires the joy and discovery of learning. RAFT provides hands-on Activity Kits and all kinds of materials at low cost by converting commonly found or discarded materials from the business community into supplies that can be used to teach children.
Only educators (including Sunday school teachers, day care providers and adult educators) are allowed to purchase an annual membership and almost all purchases need to be used towards education (although some items, like yarn, are marked OK for personal use). For someone like me who teaches creativity and innovation* by inviting children to create things from unrelated materials, RAFT is my primary source for supplies, inspiration and a great source of joy.
It has been 5 years since these photos were taken and there is even more wonderfulness now than there was back then.**
This is what you see when you first walk in the door of the enormous warehouse. To the left is the "Green Room" where there are dozens of work stations set up with large hand roller and press die cutters, scissors, clips, envelopes, tape, glue, staplers, etc. Jumbo paper trimmers are scattered around and the walls are covered with sample cuts from all of the dies that they have for you to use. Stay as long as you want. No charge.
To the right of registration is the checkout area bordered by an island of inspiration!
A few steps away from registration is a refreshment counter that always has muffins, cookies, cakes, croissants, coffee, tea and filtered water because teachers deserve to be pampered too. Also, no charge.
Now you walk onto the main floor where you are greeted with the Activity Kits section. Activity Kits are created by a team of former teachers, designed to use in the classroom and are made almost entirely with recycled materials.
Some kits serve just one, some a dozen, but most come with enough supplies to serve 20.
Even the packaging is recycled. They use old Yahoo! labels to seal their kits.
On the weekends, "Smart Carts" are set up to engage shoppers and show them how the kits can be used in their classrooms.
This is brilliant. Trim the metal strip sections from hanging files, attached it to a strip of paper, now you have hooks to hang art projects from in your classroom, child's room or studio.
Recycled books are bundled by age or subject and sell for $.50 each although on that day they were running a special, buy 2, get 1 free. Every classroom should have a library, don't you agree?
Their yarn selection is incredible and it is OK to purchase for personal use. A few times a month, they have an instructor sitting amongst a circle of chairs, right on the warehouse floor, teaching knitting to anyone who would like to learn.
Klutz books donate all of their blemished books so you can get most of their publications (which sell for around $20) for $3 or $4 just because the corner is smashed or the back page is torn off. The more injuries, the cheaper the book.
Let's talk about the bulk items section. There are bins and bins of misc. bits and pieces marked either yellow or blue. Fill a yellow bag to the top, even bursting out of the sides- its a dollar. A blue one, overflowing with cool stuff- just 5 bucks. (NOTE: Since this photo was taken RAFT has instituted the BYOB - bring your own bag policy for environmental reasons.)
Yellow bag bins
These are idea boards for the caps shown above.
These also go into the yellow bags and there is an idea board above it. I took this photo so I'd remember the project. I made a sample to show the kids then invited them to make their own travel game - anything they wanted. I supplied the magnets and they did the rest. It was a hit!
Everything in this stand goes into a yellow bag.
Some items are charged individually.
They have copy paper, scissors, staplers, hole punches, tape, clips, highlighter and regular pens, dividers, labels, ink cartridges, letter openers, envelopes, folders, post-it notes, office rubber stamps, ink pads, pencils and sharpeners, cords, cables and any other kind of office supply you would ever need for pennies on the dollar.
This is their "Specialty Area" where they sell new items like paper, stickers and packaged classroom supplies.
Now back to the Green Room where I parked my cart and picked up a few ideas before I checked out.
They have tables filled with paper projects, crafts and lessons including handouts you can take with you.
These butterflies are die cuts from soda cans.
These tulips are made from craft foam - just beautiful!
You can see the trimmers, punches and other tools available to use right next to these wonderful paper daffodils.
I finally made it to check out - I had 2 full carts. I dreaded hearing the total but just about fell off my feet when he said $42.10. I really had died and gone to heaven.
The only problem I had to contend with was fitting it all into the car!
**The prices and supplies listed in this post have undoubted changed since these photos were taken in 2010. I used notes from a 2010 FB entry to create this post.