Manitoba

This Winnipeg teacher was going to pay for her students' books out of pocket — then, a stranger stepped in

Stephanie Rempel's Grade 3 students just got a stack of brand-new books — and how they all got to their class is a story all its own, complete with an unexpected twist and a mysterious benefactor.

'I don't think I will very soon forget that feeling': Grade 3 teacher Stephanie Rempel

The kids in Stephanie Rempel's Grade 3 class are about to get a stack of brand-new titles, in part thanks to the kindness of a total stranger. (Submitted by Stephanie Rempel)

When Stephanie Rempel's students get back to school on Monday morning, they'll be met with a surprise: a stack of brand-new books, hand-picked for her Grade 3 classroom.

And how all those books got there is a story all its own, complete with an unexpected twist and a mysterious benefactor.

It all started on Saturday, when Rempel made her annual trip to a local bookstore to refresh the titles in her class at Winnipeg's Harold Hatcher Elementary School.

When it came time to pay, she realized the $600 budget she had from her school wasn't going to cover the books she chose. But Rempel, who's been teaching for 17 years, knew she couldn't leave the rest behind. 

She told the cashier she could afford to buy about half of the leftover books out of her own pocket, but that she'd have to put the rest back.

That's when another customer, overhearing the conversation, asked if the books were for Rempel's students. When the teacher told her they were, the woman put a stack of bills totalling $80 on the counter.

"I didn't really know what to say — I'm kind of tongue-tied," Rempel recalled Sunday.

But before the teacher could get a word out, the woman had already taken off.

"And I'm trying to mumble, 'Oh, thank you. Thank you very much. That's really kind,'" Rempel said. "It just seemed pretty clear that she didn't want to make a big deal out of it or get a lot of attention for it."

It wasn't until she made it out to her car with all the books that Rempel said the woman's generosity really hit her.

"I got very emotional," she said.

"With so much negativity happening in the last weeks with what's going on in Canada and the pandemic … for me, it was the positive moment that I needed."

That's how it felt for staff at the McNally Robinson bookstore in Grant Park too, said general manager Angela Torgerson, who saw the interaction unfold.

"Everyone just gasped," Torgerson said.

"For my staff to see, for Stephanie to see, such a generous act of kindness after especially the last couple of weeks, it was — we were floating on air. We were all in tears."

And while the mysterious benefactor left before anyone could ask who she was, Torgerson said staff were able to figure out the woman's identity and track down her phone number through the store's membership program.

While she declined to share the woman's identity, Torgerson did say the store decided to send her a thank you gift — including a lifetime membership to the same membership program that helped them find her, which normally has an annual fee.

"It was such a delight to see that there are so many good people out there and people that appreciate the fact that we see teachers on weekends, and in evenings, giving up their time, giving up their own money to make sure that they're getting books into the classroom," Torgerson said.

As for the 21 kids who will get to start reading the new books this week, Rempel said she thinks they'll be excited to write thank-you cards for the kind stranger — which Torgerson said she could make sure to get to the right person.

"Just knowing the nature of my students, I know that they're going to be very excited and also very thankful," Rempel said.

"When I think of that moment and her putting the money down and then just walking away, it's very powerful. And I don't think I will very soon forget that feeling of just a complete stranger doing something so incredibly, incredibly generous and kind, both for me and for my students."

With files from Caitlyn Gowriluk

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