If you were to ask John Mika about why he started The Teacher’s Desk, he would probably give two reasons.
The first and most altruistic reason would be to help provide teachers and students with school supplies that they may not be able to obtain otherwise. The second and more personal reason is that John believes that he received a mission from God to create The Teacher’s Desk and to help underprivileged students in the Buffalo and Rochester areas. Both of these reasons have helped guide John Mika and his nonprofit organization, The Teacher’s Desk, to sustained success as the 2022-23 school year approaches.
The Teacher’s Desk is a 501c3 nonprofit organization whose primary goal is to provide free school supplies for Western New York schools that may not be able to receive these supplies otherwise. Since opening in 2011, The Teacher’s Desk has given out around six million dollars’ worth of supplies to area schools. The organization has specifically given tissues to around 6,000 teachers in 250 WNY schools, which in turn helps around 150,000 students at those schools.
Most teachers can shop free at The Teacher’s Desk website, theteachersdesk.org. The only requirement for free school supplies is for each of these said teachers to work at a school where at least 70 percent of the student population qualifies for the Free Lunch or Reduced Lunch program. On the website, teachers can apply for a time to “buy” school supplies at the organization’s Buffalo location. Teachers can shop between 2:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Saturdays.
John Mika, the founder of The Teacher’s Desk, began his career working as an automaker and continued in this field for the majority of his adult life. After he retired from working at General Motors for 30 years, John worked as a substitute teacher in the Buffalo area. While he was substituting, John noticed the difference between the resources available in schools in the city of Buffalo and in the Buffalo suburbs.
For example, while substituting in the Buffalo school district, a young student asked John for a tissue. After searching around his desk, he realized that his classroom had no tissues in it. After giving the student his own handkerchief, John realized that he had a God-given mission to help provide school supplies to underprivileged children, to make sure that the tissue issue wouldn’t happen again.
As the new school year approaches, John says that he receives lots of requests to purchase new school items. The more common items that people buy, according to John, are facial tissue, glue sticks, and pencils. These three things are requested the most because they are used frequently in the classroom, and due to this, they run out more quickly. However, procuring these items is no longer much of a problem for educators thanks to The Teacher’s Desk where they “shop” for free on The Teacher’s Desk website.
The organization is funded through the donations of people and other organizations and through fundraisers held in Western New York. One of the biggest fundraisers that The Teacher’s Desk holds during the year is the Kingdom Bound Festival held at Darien Lake. John worked for the Kingdom Bound ministries in between working at General Motors and getting into teaching.
One aspect of the organization that John especially enjoys is that all donations made to The Teacher’s Desk go directly towards buying school supplies rather than towards overhead. This is because the building in which The Teacher’s Desk holds its offices is both utility and rent free. This is an important point for potential donors, John explains, because it assures them that 100% of the money they give goes directly towards helping underprivileged students.
One of the most special projects John and The Teacher’s Desk have been involved in was the creation of Pancho Packs in 2019. The Pancho Pack came about following the passage of Buffalo Bills superfan Ezra Castro, also known as Pancho Billa. At his funeral, Ezra asked for donations of supply-filled backpacks for students in need, instead of flowers. These backpacks would eventually become the Pancho Packs.
The Pancho Pack contains most of the items typically sold by The Teacher’s Desk, including facial tissues, journals, pencils, and a water bottle, among other things. The Teacher’s Desk has sold around 35,000 Pancho Parks since the initiative started. They have been sold in Western New York, El Paso, and Dallas. Ezra grew up in El Paso and was living in the Dallas area at the time of his death. John said that he hopes to build 12,000 Pancho Packs this year and repeat the success they had the previous year. In the City of Good Neighbors, John’s goal is certainly possible.