Joe Teodoro got the call on a Sunday in January. It was for a favor. Something way out of left field.
Teodoro’s longtime accountant was on the phone with an urgent message: A new nonprofit he was trying to help out, Teachers’ Teammates, had gotten a call just hours earlier and needed immediate help. A 53-foot tractor trailer full of donated crafting supplies was suddenly available for the group, which had no storage capacity because it was being run out of a Havertown woman’s house.
If only there was somewhere to drop off the 24 pallets of swag. A warehouse, maybe? A free one?
“Do you know anyone?” the accountant asked, knowing of course that Teodoro, a self-made owner of a small online sorting and fulfillment business, was paying rent on a total of 23,000 square feet of space in West Chester.
Before giving you the answer, let me tell you about my first meeting with this man on Wednesday.
An Inquirer photographer and I were chasing Teodoro through the winding, tall piles of stacked boxes that fill room after room of his online-retail-ordering fulfillment business when a manager sitting at a desk at Total Fulfillment Services LLC shot off a salty wisecrack.
“He doesn’t have a good side!” Tom Reiley quipped with the unmistakable accent and zingerlike attack that I had learned well in my own childhood in Delaware County.
“Are you from Delco?” I asked with a smile. As he answered, I noticed a black cap on his head. One with the word DELCO, in all caps, above the bill.
“Joe and I shared a playpen together when we were kids,” Reiley, 56, said of his 55-year-old pal who now is his boss. “We lived in rowhouses in Glenolden. Same street, same block.”
The business, I later learned, had 10 full-time employees including Reiley: people either directly related to or connected to each other in a villagelike way that looks and feels like family.
“Joey’s heart is this big,” Reiley said, stretching his arms wide across his chest. “He’s been that way his whole life.”
When Teodoro got the call in late January, he was told that Teachers’ Teammates, which I had first written about around Christmas, desperately needed a place to accept a big donation. The stockpile would help the group’s mission of giving teachers and children in high-need school districts the pencils, pens, paints, bags, crayons, and other supplies they were too poor to buy on their own.
Teodoro had teacher friends from childhood. Every fall they asked for donations on Facebook. His wife worked for a suburban school district. So did Reiley’s wife.
“I just said yes.”
From that moment on, no request from Teachers’ Teammates founder Raelyn Harmon has gone unanswered.
An unexpected donation comes through. She texts the newfound stranger-turned-missionary. Teodoro always comes through.
“I’ll take care of it,” he shoots back, time and again. “Don’t worry.”
“I cried more than once when he said yes,” Harman said as I interviewed the pair Wednesday at the warehouse.
When Teodoro was out of earshot, Harman whispered: “He’s some kind of saint.”
His warehouse is stuffed with pallets of donated goods from retailers such as Jo-Ann Stores and the now-defunct A.C. Moore crafts chain. A tractor trailer load of hand sanitizer was due to arrive Thursday — also to eventually find its way to poorer school districts in Delaware County.
It’s great. And it’s too much.
“It can’t go on like this forever,” Harman said of Teodoro’s generosity. “It’s his business; he expanded his footprint here because his business is expanding — not to be the warehouse for Teachers’ Teammates.”
Surely, I asked Teodoro, this gesture comes with a tax benefit?
“I get a karma benefit, in my mind,” Teodoro said. “If you do things right, if you help people, it all comes back to you in spades.”
Teodoro is no hero if you consider that everyone should be stepping up to help uplift those among us in need. But he is a hero when you consider how quickly he responded to this group’s need.
Too often, big donors demand lengthy financial statements or tax filings before conceding a penny to a grassroots group. That disdainful and time-consuming approach is one reason why the recent gifts by Mackenzie Bezos, doing the opposite, have been notable.
A year in quarantine saw enormous fortunes balloon and sent corporate profits in some industries stratospherically soaring. Rather than putting groups like Teachers’ Teammates through a wringer of process, deep-pocketed donors should be looking to heap their good fortune quickly onto groups that are working to tangibly help people most harmed by the economic fallout.
Schoolchildren and teachers should be at the front of the line.
For months, Harman has looked for corporate help, sponsorship, introductions to executives — anything that could connect her nonprofit with warehouse space that is closer to the districts where her supplies eventually go: Upper Darby, William Penn, Penn-Delco, and Chester Upland, all of them a long drive from West Chester.
She and Teodoro estimate it would cost at least $60,000 a year to lease a warehouse in Delco at least as large as the free space that Teodoro has made available for nearly half a year now.
“We would love a corporate sponsorship,” Teodoro said, for a “warehouse closer to the area where the teachers can access it. It’s difficult for them to come out to Chester County.”
What should not be difficult is for corporations in our vast eight-county region to pony up what amounts to pocket change to solve this problem immediately. Shame on our wealthiest citizens and institutions for falling short where a small business owner has stepped up.
Let’s get Teachers’ Teammates the warehouse it needs. And let’s be inspired by the man who shows that decisive charitable action is a marker of conviction, rather than corporate cash flow.