Knotty Oak school teachers re-gift Wal-Mart donations

COVENTRY - Sometimes, a small gesture can make a big statement.

Knotty Oak Middle School social students teacher Ted Mitchell adopted that same philosophy this week when he, along with five other teachers, decided that regardless of how little an impact it made, they were going to stand up for what they believe in.

Last week, Mitchell found a flier in his school mailbox announcing that Wal-Mart was celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week. The flier invited teachers to stop by the store, located in the Centre of New England, to pick up a package of miscellaneous items such as pens, markers, tissue and glue for classroom use.

The only problem was, 90 percent of the teachers at Knotty Oak have agreed not to shop at Wal-Mart.

"I know that companies get tax write-offs for a certain philanthropy or donation, so I know some of it is attributed to that," said Mitchell, speaking to the reasoning behind Wal-Mart making the donation. "At the same time, it's great that they gave something to teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week... we just don't shop there."

Mitchell, who serves on the executive board of the Coventry Teacher's Alliance, said that the majority of the union members in Coventry came together quite some time ago and decided, collectively, that Wal-Mart was hurting the community and other small communities like Coventry.

"The biggest concern we have, here in Coventry, is, not only are they [Wal-Mart] anti-union, but secondly, on Tiogue Avenue, you have a bunch of stores like Tom's Market and even Jerry's Market that will be affected negatively by the super store," said Mitchell. He referenced a business practice Wal-Mart uses called "dumping," which is essentially when the store lowers its prices to such an extent that they're actually not making a profit.

"But the idea behind it is that if they do that for awhile, which they have the billions of dollars to sustain that, they'll put out the competition," he said, noting that Wal-Mart stores typically put pharmacies and banks in their locations as well.

The competition, Mitchell said, are the local businesses that are the economic vitals for the town for tax-based reasons as well as places of employment for many residents.
Since the members of the teachers' union don't shop at Wal-Mart, Mitchell said he suggested donating the packets to a charitable institution.

The teachers chose Tides Family Services in West Warwick, an alternative education program, including after school activities, designed to provide at-risk students with a combination of individualized educational and counseling services to promote academic success and appropriate social skills.

Surprisingly enough, Mitchell said the hardest thing about getting people to participate with the donation was actually getting the teachers to go to Wal-Mart.

"A lot of people had thrown out the flier right away and said, 'well, we don't shop at Wal-Mart, so we're not going to do this,' which is great," said Mitchell. "Some of them were like, 'I don't care what it's for, I'm still not going to go because I just can't stand that store.'"

Because of the short amount of time given to organize the donation, Mitchell said he was only able to collect roughly six boxes full of supplies, but that he felt the message behind the action was more important.

"You hear again and again and again of one Wal-Mart violation after the next, and it's really hurting the economy, yet at the same time, you get people, and you can't blame them, who say, 'I'm going to go to Wal-Mart and buy this stuff because it's cheap," said Mitchell.

Wal-Mart representatives did not return calls for comment.

©The Coventry Courier 2007