SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. - When a group of students at South Pittsburg High School decided to donate their fundraising money to tornado victims recently, they had no idea their good deed would be rewarded by people they'd never even met.
Marion County Commissioner Jane Dawkins said students in the school's Transitional Life Skills class worked all year to raise money for an overnight educational trip to Tybee Island, Ga.
"They had raised $2,000 this year to take that trip," she said. "Most of these kids have not been out of our area in their lifetime. It was a big opportunity for them."
After the deadly tornadoes last month, Dawkins said, the students decided to donate the money to the family of a boy from Bridgeport, Ala., who died in the storms.
"On their own, they chose to donate the $2,000 to this child's family to help with funeral expenses or anything they needed," she said. "Then this thing started to snowball."
Classroom aide Elizabeth Mount said calls, emails, and donations to help send the students on the trip started coming in almost immediately.
"[One man] took it upon himself to contact all the businesses around Tybee Island and ask for their help," she said.
The class was given money to pay for the bus ride through a Facebook campaign, a free two-night stay at the hotel where they originally had planned to stay, free restaurant meals and free visits to Tybee tourist attractions, officials said.
"The school was bombarded with calls from Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama asking how they could help these kids," South Pittsburg Principal Allen Pratt said. "It was truly amazing."
The students had dinner with the mayor and city commissioners of Tybee Island, Mount said, and the town proclaimed it South Pittsburg High School Life Skills Class Day during their visit last week.
"The kids [had] two full days of a lot of fun and things that we couldn't have afforded to do for them," Mount said. "The people from Tybee Island and all the people that have donated money to help have really touched us."
"It shows what kind of character kids we've got at our school," Pratt said. "I think our push to promote character through our schoolwide positive support program has really made an impact, and it shows in things like this."
Mount said one email she read had a quote at the end that summed up what has happened over the last several weeks.
"It read, 'When you love without asking, you receive without knowing,'" she said. "I thought that was appropriate for the situation these kids are in."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.