I grew up surrounded by teachers. I remember the late nights my mother spent grading papers, correcting first attempts at cursive writing, meticulously cutting giant letters out of construction paper for bulletin boards for her second graders. She and my aunt, who taught first grade, would sometimes combine their efforts and traipse the countryside searching for the perfect pinecones for a Christmas tree craft project (this, before the PC era of no religion in schools). Occasionally, their mother would assist. A retired teacher who taught in a one-room school house, grades 1-6, she understood their needs and would lend her stash of buttons or quilt patches. So much of their effort was on their own dime. They did all this because, well, that’s what they did. Teaching children was their vocation.
I think most teachers are like this. Completely committed, often self-sacrificing underdogs—and rocks—of our communities. That’s why I was estatic to come across—quite by accident—the best gift idea ever. Donorschoose.org connects teaches who want educational supplies for their needy students in low-income or poverty-stricken areas but are unable to buy them because of tight public-school budgets. It’s simple. Teachers submit proposals for their idea on this not-for-profit website. The site categorizes proposals by subject, area of interest and state. Anyone online can choose the project nearest and dearest to them, select to fund the whole thing, or contribute a few bucks. When the project is fully funded and materials are delivered (by donorschoose), each donor who contributed over $100 received hand-written thank you notes from the students themselves. The kids send photos of themselves using the materials and write thank you notes to the donors.
What could your donations buy? Mrs. C, a high school teacher from Liberty, Mississippi, requests 150-200 preserved frogs for dissecting purposes. Mrs. M, a reading specialist in Houston, Texas, requests the magazine Time for Kids to help her students get excited about reading. Ms. R’s would like 22 copies of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Girl, Interrupted for her Maryland psychology students.
The site tracks and posts all donations. Since 2000, $27,092,093 has been given to over 1.6 million students in all 50 states. That’s a lot of chalk! (actually books, stethoscopes, memory cards, audio cards, toner cartridges, video cameras… and frogs). And if you can’t decide what to give, there are always Giving Cards you can purchase in honor of someone else—and the honoree gets the thank you note.
Yes, friends, philanthropy has never been easier. I can’t wait to tell Mom.
First appeared on rd.com, December 10, 2008.