High school students Brooke Chow and Emily Shih started fundraising with bake sales to provide classroom supplies to school.
by Rachel Taylor | photographs courtesy Brooke Chow
Juggling after-school activities, homework and social lives can be a lot for a teenager. But on top of managing their workload at Enloe Magnet High School, Brooke Chow and Emily Shih also spend their time running a charitable organization, The Banana Nut Scholars.
It started as a bake sale to help local senior centers.
But after hearing from teachers about their struggles stocking basic classroom necessities, the girls switched to raising money for school supplies, buying everything from staples to calculators.
“It’s things you don’t even think about, like pens and paper,” says Chow. “And, of course, tissues—literally teachers are purchasing them every week for their students. That’s just crazy. It really adds up over time.”
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Education released a study to highlight how much teachers were spending: On average teachers paid $479 for supplies during a school year; and 94% of teachers will pay for supplies at least once in their career.
Chow and Shih hope to see policy change to help alleviate the need for teachers to pay out-of-pocket for basic classroom items, but for the time being, they help fill that gap.
“Even if we can’t necessarily get them every single item they request, teachers are always so appreciative,” says Chow. “They’ve really helped spread the word.” Initially, teachers around the Triangle were the only ones making requests for supplies. The program has now expanded to reach teachers across the state.
The main fundraiser for the organization are bake sales held a few times a month at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. The students buy baked goods from Clayton Bakery & Cafe in Clayton, working with them to create seasonal menus. From the beginning, banana nut bread was a top seller—that’s how it became the organization’s namesake.
Teachers, parents and friends all come to the bake sales to show support. “At first, we had a hard time selling breads,” Chow says. “But now people are getting to know us and our name, and it’s really picked up from there.”
During the 2018-2019 school year, Banana Nut Scholars delivered over 50,000 items to teachers across the state including pencils, batteries and wet wipes. Chow and Shih hope to raise $50,000 and to match that amount during the upcoming 2020-2021 school year. They are also now collecting tampons, pads and underwear to distribute to underprivileged students.
As requests come in from teachers across the state, the girls both deliver supplies themselves and utilize online shopping. “With handy-dandy Amazon, we can send directly to teachers, so that’s helped,” Chow says. “It’s been a learning process trying to piece it together and reach as many schools as possible.”
Enloe principal William Chavis is proud of what Chow and Shih have accomplished. “I’m very impressed by the courageous leadership and extraordinary service exhibited by Brooke and Emily by defining the needs of educators and working within their local community to make this a reality,” Chavis says. “It was amazing to see the joy that our teachers displayed when they were given big bundles of classroom supplies, wipes, tissues, stationary, paper,” says Chavis. “And to know that it was orchestrated and organized by two of our very own scholars meant the world to us!”
Chow and Shih, who are both heading to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill next year, want to continue to grow the organization after graduation, and are confident their reliable volunteers will carry the torch with them overseeing the work. In five years, they hope Banana Nut Scholars can help teachers across the nation. “But what we really hope is that there’s better educational funding, so we won’t have to raise money any more,” Chow says.