After an elementary schoolteacher in Phoenix posted her salary on Facebook in March last year amid a statewide protest for more education funding, she got a lot of calls from the news media, and a lot of hate mail, too.
But a few months later, the teacher, Elisabeth Milich, said she received what seemed to be an unbelievable offer from a stranger in New York City: He would pay for the snacks and supplies she and her husband had been buying for her students with their own money.
“I thought it was a one-time thing,” Milich said Thursday.
Instead, the man, Ben Adam, has since supplied her classroom at Whispering Wind Academy with colored pencils, paper clips, books, crackers and big bags of Hershey’s Kisses for two semesters. He has also bought a butterfly farm for another teacher in Phoenix and supplies for four other classrooms in the Phoenix area.
He started a website last month called Classroom Giving, which allows other people the chance to give necessities to teachers.
Adam, a freelance audio producer who owns a real estate company, learned about Milich on the HBO show “Real Time With Bill Maher.” He said he was shocked that she was paying for cleaning supplies and paintbrushes on a salary of about $35,000.
“I was just really disappointed to see how little she makes,” Adam said. “I would be homeless with that kind of money.”
For people like Milich, who are “doing the right thing,” he asked, “why do we nickel and dime them?”
Classroom Giving is best described as a gift registry for educators.
Teachers post a “wish list” of materials on Amazon, and donors can choose to buy a pack of markers or an entire semester’s worth of pencils and paper, which are delivered through the online retailer. So far about a dozen teachers in Arizona have received supplies, according to the site, and almost 20 teachers have made requests.
Since the local website azcentral wrote about Classroom Giving last week, Adam said he had received hundreds of messages from teachers in other states hoping to participate.
Across the country, public schoolteachers have been protesting low wages, including in Arizona, where the recession, coupled with tax cuts, wiped out billions of dollars in state revenue. In 2017, Arizona’s spending per student and its average teacher salary were well below the national averages.
Hundreds of public schools in the state were temporarily shut down in April 2018, when teachers walked out of their classrooms to demand more funding.
The streets of downtown Phoenix were flooded with people wearing crimson clothing as educators and their supporters marched to the state Capitol wearing red T-shirts and chanting “Red for Ed,” as the movement became known there.
After a week of protests, Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed a budget bill to provide teachers with the 20% raises they had demanded, in addition to new funds for classrooms.
Although the movement has brought attention to the issue, Milich said the system is “broken.”
“People still have old textbooks and work in buildings that are falling apart,” she said. “I know educators in this state who are leaving the profession every day because they can’t afford to live or because they’re sick of the environment they’re working in.”
Milich said her class referred to Adam as “their New York friend,” and they sent him a thank you poster.
“It’s changing the culture of a classroom and a teacher,” she said of Adam’s work. “Unless you’re in teaching, you don’t understand the value of a brand-new box of paints that you don’t have to buy out of your own pocket and what a blessing that is.”
One of her students, Mina, told a reporter for azcentral that she thinks Adam “is the nicest person ever” and called him “our hero.”
Another student, Habiba, also expressed gratitude.
“We are thankful because now we get to paint a lot and make lots of beautiful crafts,” she said.