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."

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