A fifth-grade teacher taught his students a lot more than math after making an Easter gesture that would last them a lifetime. Brent Walker, of Tampa, Florida, wanted to simply treat his pupils at Sheehy Elementary School, but instead, he made the headlines.
As spring break approached, Walker was aware that many of the children in his class would not receive an Easter gift at home this year. He decided to organize a math-solving egg hunt in a bid to mark the holiday. He had been teaching his class about acts of kindness and wanted to endorse the message in the game.
So, on Wednesday March 28, 2018, just days before Easter weekend, the Hillsborough teacher headed to a South Tampa Walmart in search of plastic eggs and candy for his lesson the next day. But what he found there inspired him to expand the idea so much further and touch the hearts of many.
The Walmart on Gandy Boulevard had Easter baskets on sale for $10 each. Each one contained a gift of either a football, backpack or some other cool gift. On seeing the display Walker thought how wonderful it would be if every one of his students found a basket on their classroom desk the next morning.
But his tight budget was not enough to cover the price of 20 baskets. However, the committed educator did not give up. He believed his students deserved a surprise and wanted to be the person to provide it. He quickly came up with a clever plan to make it happen.
Walker decided to use the power of social media and ask his Facebook buddies to help him out. His quick thinking triggered a sequence of events that would reach well beyond the classroom. “It was a very spur of the moment thing. It just kind of happened very quickly,” Walker told ABC Action News.
With no time to lose, the savvy tutor posted a message on Facebook simply asking, “Would anyone like to sponsor a student?” In the candid post he explained to his followers that he was in Walmart buying candy and had discovered the amazing Easter baskets. His hope was that he would raise enough money to buy 20 baskets, enough for each one of his fifth graders.
Walker was not prepared for the rapid response from his social media network. He received donations of more than $1,000 in just a few hours, leaving him with enough cash to buy an Easter basket for the entire fifth grade, a total of 65 children. Friends and family praised his efforts, and words of encouragement flooded his page.
The excited teacher was left stunned and expressed his delight in a Facebook video directly from the store. “You guys are amazing!” he beamed. “Money is coming in faster than I can keep track of it, so my goal is now to get a basket for every fifth grader at the school.” His dedicated followers continued to show their support.
Five shopping carts containing more than 60 Easter baskets later, Walker was left with the head-scratching task of packing all the gifts into the compact trunk of his blue Honda Civic. So he combined helpful Walmart staff and skills developed from playing Tetris. Consequently, he could fit all the baskets into his trusty wagon before heading home for the night.
Keeping his generous donors up to date, Walker honored his beloved car via Facebook. “A big shout-out goes to my Honda Civic. Even though she is small, she has proven herself mighty,” he posted. He also thanked Walmart staff, mentioning the store manager who had given him a further 10 percent discount on hearing his story.
As the busy day drew to an emotional close, Walker expressed how grateful he was for all the kindness he had witnessed in such a short space of time. “I’m crying in bed as I write this, thinking of my students’ faces tomorrow as they enter the room and see an amazing gift sitting on their desk,” he wrote. “Knowing that so many of them are lacking in love, this… just this.”
The next day arrived full of hope and promise. Walker arrived at work early and with enough time to display a shiny surprise on every desk. He attached the name of the individual sponsor of each basket so that the child would know who had donated their special gift.
As the fifth-grade students showed up for class the elated teacher asked them to form a queue outside the room. “I want to see their faces light up,” he told Fox 13 News. He hoped that the surprise would confirm the message that acts of kindness could bring happiness. Their reactions were more than he had hoped for.
As the children entered the classroom and saw the baskets, they responded with a mixture of shock and joy. One boy appeared stunned as he held a hand to his open mouth while another commented on the kindness shown by Walker’s friends. “He put it on Facebook and he has wonderful friends and I think they did a good job. Thank you,” fifth grader Johnnie Tyson told ABC Action News.
Furthermore, the impact did not stop there. One mom was so touched by her son coming home from school with an Easter basket she went to Walmart and bought 20 of the same gifts for children at her daughter’s daycare. Aja White told ABC Action News, “It was something that I saw that I could do something good and I could continue the kindness that Mr. Walker was trying to show the kids.”
As the story spread, Walker was blown away by the media attention he had attracted. “What a day,” he wrote on Facebook. “When I went to sleep last night, I was on cloud nine from the events of the evening. Never did I dream the story of the Easter baskets would be all over the Tampa news today.”
But the humble teacher refused to accept all the glory and made reference to the many acts of kindness happening in schools throughout the year. “There are people doing this kind of thing every day in every classroom all over the country,” he told ABC Action news. “So it’s an amazing profession. It’s exhausting, but it’s worth it.”
He told Fox 13 how he hoped the generosity shown this Easter will push his students to excel at their studies. “People they’ve never met before are fighting for them and are encouraging them from all over the place,” he said. He added that two extra baskets had been bought for surprise recipients on campus but would not reveal their identity.
The goodwill shown by so many to people they don’t even know has inspired Walker to fund acts of kindness across Tampa Bay. He set up a gofundme page to continue making a difference together with friends, family and other donors. “I can’t wait to see the difference we all can make… together!” he writes.