Lucy Eustace hoped for good news every time her phone buzzed, and she thought she might be closer to her goal of raising $450 for two new laptops for her students at Arundel Elementary-Middle School.
In December she had posted her request on DonorsChoose.org, a website that helps educators across the country raise funds for classroom resources. But only one donation had come in months. So when her phone buzzed shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday, she thought she was getting notice that her request had expired.
Instead, she found out she was one of hundreds of teachers across Baltimore City whose classrooms projects had been "flash funded" by philanthropists who surprised educators across the country by paying for all of their wish lists — from pencils and paper, to technology and field trips.
"It's like Christmastime for teachers," said Eustace. "It's like you woke up, and the thing that you waited for all year is under the tree."
It wasn't Santa who delivered the surprise Thursday; it was former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, who funded every project on DonorsChoose.Org submitted by schools in Baltimore's east side. Carmelo Anthony, a forward for the New York Knicks, funded projects from schools on the city's west Side. And other local philanthropists funded wish lists from other schools in the city.
All told, 727 donation requests totaling more than $500,000 were funded, helping 58,000 students in Baltimore.
Projects in Montgomery County and Washington also were flash-funded Thursday. The event, part of a #BestSchoolDay initiative organized by DonorsChoose.org, funded more 12,000 projects around the country, providing about $14 million in assistance.
Katie Bisbee, chief marketing officer for DonorsChoose.org, said she was particularly excited for Baltimore. She was happy to see a continuation of support that came through the company's website following the unrest that gripped the city last spring.
"Teachers were the inspiration behind this day," she said. "I hope they find it uplifting and encouraging. It's because of their hard work and dedication that this day happened."
Eustace was one of five teachers at Arundel Elementary-Middle School who received support for their projects, which included school supplies, new chairs, and a STEM-themed (science, technology, engineering and math) trip to Six Flags amusement park for sixth-graders. About 94 percent of students who attend the school qualify for free or reduced-priced meals. The majority of the students at the schools being funded come from low-income households.
Eustace said the donation will help provide her students the same opportunities that schools with more resources offer, such as digital learning.
"You have the basic curriculum, but sometimes you can't even teach our children to do basic things like type reports," she said. "These are all things that we need to enrich our children's school day."
She noted that shrinking school budgets in the city's cash-strapped system have made such generosity vital to educating city students.
"We just don't get the resources that other schools in the state get. DonorsChoose makes it possible."
The city's public schools aren't the only ones to benefit from a windfall of good will. St. Frances Academy, a small parochial school in Baltimore that also serves many disadvantaged students, received a $500,000 donation last month. The gift from the Paul Dematteo Charitable Fund will be used to enhance learning with technology by paying for new iPads for each of the school's 120 students and upgrading the school's wireless capabilities.
"It is something that will allow us to transform the educational opportunity for our young people," said Brian Boles, who is in charge of development for the school.
"This is one of the largest gifts in school history without a doubt."