She walked off a flight in tears and with a wad of cash. Her viral post explained why.

This is Kimberly Bermudez, a schoolteacher in Chicago. A few days ago, she had a life-changing experience flying home to see her parents in Florida.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Bermudez.

It started out like most other flights — with some polite chit-chat to the person sitting next to her. She told the stranger about her job at a low-income school and some of the struggles she sees her students and their parents facing.    


"When he asked me the greatest challenge that I face I was honest with him," she later recalled in a Facebook post. "I told him that working at a low-income school can be heartbreaking."

Many of her students are immigrants, she'd explained to her seat mate, and their parents go above and beyond just to make ends meet. The man asked to get her information; the company he works for likes to donate items to schools like hers, he explained. Maybe they could work something out.

The kind gesture already made her flight a heartening one. But then things really took a turn.

Bermudez felt a tap on her shoulder.

The man sitting behind her apologized for having eavesdropped on her conversation — then handed her a stack of cash.

The bill on top was $100.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Bermudez.

The man asked that she "do something amazing" with the gift.

"I was in complete awe," Bermudez wrote. She thanked him for his generosity and promised the money would be put to good use for her students.

But other passengers overheard the conversations, too.

After the plane landed, the man sitting across the aisle from Bermudez donated $20, she said. Another passenger sitting in front of her handed her a $10.

"I started crying on the plane," Bermudez wrote in her Facebook post, which has garnered more than 50,000 likes and 17,000 shares as of publication.

In total, the stunned Chicago teacher walked away with $530 — funding, Bermudez told The Washington Post, that she plans to spend on books for her students.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Bermudez.

Incredibly, Bermudez's experience inspired other strangers to chip in, too.

Since the story went viral (it was even featured on The Today Show), the school where Bermudez teaches, Fuentes Elementary, has received over $4,000 in donations, the school confirmed to Upworthy. Some have even expressed interest in helping the students get new playground equipment.

Bermudez's story may warm the heart. But it's understandable if it leaves a bittersweet taste, too.

While those passengers' dollars will no doubt be put to great use, what does it say about the value our society places on education that a teacher needs donations from strangers to provide basic necessities to her students?

No one-off donation can fix the deep-rooted, systemic barriers facing kids in underserved communities.

Teachers in Chicago went on strike in 2012. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Our public schools are under-resourced. Our teachers are continually asked to do more with less (just ask the ones in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Oklahoma). And a flawed system of funding that rewards kids in wealthier suburbs leaves their poorer counterparts in small towns and inner-cities behind.

Their donations to Bermudez will make a difference, to be sure. But kind-hearted strangers on a flight to Florida can't overhaul a broken system.

If we really want to support teachers and the students they're educating, keep them in mind when you go to the ballot box.

Get involved locally, and fight for students in your own state and community. Listen to teachers and amplify their message when they fill the streets in protest.

And in the meantime, take Bermudez's advice and do something nice for someone who could use a helping hand.

"I do, however, hope that posting this continues the chain reaction of people helping those in need, and especially the children in need," she wrote in her Facebook post. "My heart is in complete shock and awe right now. When the world seems crazy, there are always good people."

Wear your values with products from PSA Supply Co., an independent site owned by our parent company, GOOD Worldwide Inc. GOOD makes money when you buy these products, and 10% of profits go to The Center for Community Change Action. Use discount code UPWORTHY to get 15% off your first order!
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Today, I'm a 35-year-old man with a flame shaved into my beard. If the '80s movies I love so much are any indication, this is a sure sign I'm going through some kind of existential crisis. Next week, when the semester starts and I begin teaching again, it will not be strange if my colleagues start to worry about me just a little. A sports car or a neck-jerking pivot to physical fitness — that's an understandable response to the realization that life is fleeting. But a large meticulous flame carved out of facial hair? What does one do with that?

At this moment, though, I'm showing my face proudly to a woman wearing a swimsuit with a taco cat on it. We have only recently met, but she's telling me that she's so into my "fade" that she wants to kiss it. Then she does, blowing a raspberry into my cheek so hard that her hat falls off. Neither of us can stop laughing.

"Live Mas!" she yells with the excitement of someone who's never had trouble fully seizing the moment.

"Live Mas!" I shout back without any irony. There is no irony here in Palm Springs, where, for four days only, hundreds of people celebrate their love for Taco Bell.

Here, there's only swimming and hot sauce-themed leisure wear, and the warm pleasant feeling that comes from eating too much and knowing that you're with your own people. Even if the only thing that connects you is a love for a fast food giant that feeds you when you're hammered and shameless at 2 a.m.

We drank the Baja Blast! My Taco Bell fade and my friend's specialty manicure!Mark Shrayber

What does it mean to Live Mas? This is a question I am forced to ask myself over and over during my 24-hour stay at "The Bell," where I have stowed away as a friend's plus-one. We are, of course, both politely pretending that I'm a full-on guest with all the perks that entails, but we also both know that I wouldn't be here eating unlimited quesadillas poolside without her.

So maybe that's the first thing Live Mas means: To build strong lifelong connections which you can, with some luck, exploit to your benefit. :) :) :)

But this is too cynical an interpretation, because everyone here is so happy. Happy that they've gotten a reservation; happy that they can cool off in a room themed after an iconic Mountain Dew Drink, and happy that they can share their own personal story of what Taco Bell means to them. (Though there's no formal essay contest — I've checked.)

Me: This room won't be that cool. Also me: OH MY GOD, THIS IS THE COOLEST ROOM I'VE EVER BEEN IN!!!Mark Shrayber

Snatches of this story float around the "Fire" pool, where all the entertainment is concentrated: One couple canceled their trip to Prague because "Prague will always be there" — a brave stance considering climate change; another met last year on Tinder after the girlfriend's Taco Bell senior photos went viral; at the opening ceremony on Thursday, where sauce packets were cut instead of a ribbon, a city official brought others to tears with both her Taco Bell fashion and a memory of how her parents would feed an entire family with 19-cent-tacos from the first-ever Taco Bell in Downey, California.

Oh, I forgot one: The guy who skipped out on Prague? He got a giant bell shaved into the side of his head, so he might have to miss out on a black-tie event happening later this week. But it's all good. Bring on the nacho fries.

I make fast friends with four women who are here for a bachelorette party, the bride overwhelmed with good vibes and prosecco. This year, for her 30th, she rented a party bus. Inside? $100 worth of Taco Bell that her fiancee was worried might not be consumed.

"But little did he know," she shouts in the hot tub where we're "cooling off" after a long day of 108-degree sunning, "we ate it all!"

A bachelorette party and a birthday! We're really living it up (but also staying hydrated.)Mark Shrayber

Others whoop it up at the twist, but we all get it. Though there's no essay contest, I don't mind telling you that when my first boyfriend dumped me 14 years ago, I stuffed my face with chalupas. When I lost a job I really loved four years ago, I once ordered so much Taco Bell that the delivery app of my choice informed me I'd exceeded the maximum number of items they could comfortably fill in one order. We get it — though none of us can truly explain it.

There are, if you look at the The Bell from a literary perspective, many other writers who deserve this experience more than me. They could talk about the blue of the pool. Or the insouciance of youth. Draw parallels between marketing stunts such as this and the end-stage capitalism. Or envision a "Demolition Man" future where Taco Bell is fine dining and none of us know how to use the three shells in the bathroom to get ourselves clean.

And I wish these writers could be here to paint you these landscapes, but what you've got is me, a literal Taco Bell super-fan, and what I'm doing is eating and getting sunburned and taking a synchronized swimming class with the Aqualillies, who refer to themselves as "the world's most glamorous water ballet entertainment," but have very little idea of what to do with 10 eager recruits who can't stay afloat or on beat.


G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S!!Photo courtesy of Taco Bell.

"It's okay," one of the instructors comforts me just before the Tacolilies (the name of our "team") are invited to perform our watery version of "Senorita" — which was supposed to be two minutes long, then 1:15, and has now been judiciously cut down, due to talent, to about 45 seconds — in the bigger pool. "We regularly teach five-year-olds. And you're doing much better."

Usually, I would take offense at such blatant reads, but today I'm unbothered. I'll continue to be so right until I get home and discover that I've left all my electronics on United Flight 5223 (if anyone wants to get them back to me). And even then, I rage at myself for all of five seconds before checking that I've still got what's important: A certificate that says I did not drown while doing water ballet.

It's still there. As is my phone, which is blowing up with messages from people who took pictures of me in what Taco Bell calls its "power suit," and which is best described as "cult outfit, but kinda make it fashion." I bought my husband one, too, and I look forward to the argument we're going to have about holiday cards later.

This is "Live Mas."

I've never been so happy to match with someone else in my life. MaMark Shrayber

Or maybe it's the moment another stranger tells me that we'll be friends forever. Such friendships are forged quickly when you've got less than 24 hours to make lifelong connections and I'm pleased to get the full experience.

"We may never meet again," he says while we're swimming, "but we'll always have this time together."

Then we establish that he lives just across the park from me in San Francisco.

"Aw, man," he says, floating away to take pictures of the people he came with, "I've got lots of close friends I never see because they live across that damn park."

But the sentiment holds.

We Live Mas it on.

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