Tia Gannon

Tia Gannon of Dublin, the founder and director of School Rocks Party Box, stands outside the Reeb Center on the South Side where she was delivering packets of kids craft supplies on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Adam Cairns | Columbus Dispatch

Tia Gannon

The students at Beatty Park Elementary School often keep an eye outside their classroom windows to watch for Miss Tia and her big red wagon. They know that the wagon is overflowing with cool things gathered to make their day just a little bit better.

“You would hear the whispers of the kids and the kids were always running up and giving hugs,” Tia Gannon said. “You would hear them say ‘Oh there’s Miss Tia!’”

As she unloads her car, the 52-year-old Dublin resident fills that big red wagon with an assortment of school supplies, books, toys, crafts and other items that were donated and dropped off on her front porch. These items are used to throw class parties, organize book fairs or just give these children essentials that they may not be able to get themselves.

Maggie Boggess, an art teacher at Beatty Park Elementary, said Gannon works well with the students, is overwhelmingly positive and, above all, gives her time.

“Tia has never told me no,” Boggess said. “And sometimes our asks can be very big.”

Gannon has always loved throwing parties and event planning. Growing up in the Columbus area, she graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in hospitality management and ultimately decided to plant her roots here.

She married her husband, Mark, in 2008. The couple adopted their first son, Max, 12, and soon after, gave birth to Jack, 10. Gannon’s family always comes first, but she soon realized she wanted something more.

“I was always just a room mom for them, and I just had this urge to have a bigger purpose and be more than just a mother and a wife,” she said.

What started off as a simple Facebook post about five years ago turned into School Rocks Party Box, a nonprofit that takes donations and organizes events and parties for multiple area schools.

Gannon accepts donations, left on her front porch, of books, toiletries, toys, crafts, school supplies or any items from neighbors or people from the School Rocks Party Box Facebook group. Sometimes the donations stack so high that she has to enter her house through the garage.

Gannon, with the help of her children, husband and her parents, puts on holiday parties and book fairs, and even organizes loose change ”Penny Harvest” donations with Forest Park Elementary School, where students pick nonprofits to donate to and eventually visit.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a wrench in Gannon’s plans for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, but that didn’t stop her from her mission.

By coordinating with parents, schools and other organizations like the Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks, she is able to collect and deliver supplies to students. During the pandemic, she is working with the Ohio Division of Natural Resources, which gave her flying discs that she includes in care packages.

Recipients are families who often don’t have the basic supplies needed to do classwork from home and are struggling more than anyone else to put food on the table and keep the lights on.

Boggess said Gannon helped get the students some art supplies when the pandemic initially shut down schools.

“This doesn’t feel right. These kids are just home with no food, no supplies, and the schools are expecting them to learn,” Gannon said. “ I see what my kids have, and I really saw the gap in the education system and wanted to get supplies in the hands of the kids.”

As she looks back at the five years of working with these students, her joy comes from the simple interactions she’s had with them. Gannon gets thousands of thank-you cards peppered with stickers and hand-drawn art. 

She recalls one particular day at Beatty Park, when she walked into a schoolwide surprise party titled “National Tia Day,” complete with a signed banner and gifts from the students to her family.

“People always ask if I get paid and I say, ‘It’s right here in my heart,’” Gannon said.