A FIRST-GRADE teacher on Kickstarter is trying to raise money for tablets to help her students improve their reading and math skills.

A rookie music teacher on GoFundMe is trying to cobble enough together to buy musical instruments.

On that same crowdfunding site, another instructor is hoping to raise money to set up a game room for students who have emotional and behavioral needs.

With so much lacking in Philadelphia schools, I had to give these teachers props for thinking past just surviving.

But the more I poked around, the more basic, and sad, the requests got. Paper. Pencils. Pink erasers.

The sorry state of Philly public schools isn't news to anyone with a pulse. But every start of the school year it comes into somber-eyed focus. Will they open? How will they open? Will anyone or anything be there when they do?

Heads up, based on lists of needed donations, there will be a lack of paper (copy and loose-leafed), glue sticks, rulers and tape. Don't go looking for napkins, paper towels or liquid hand soap, either.

Depressing. And yet, within the humblest and saddest requests for donations, I noticed something else. Compassion, commitment and a huge desire to help.

Take Rasheen Crews, a product of Philadelphia public schools who works for state Sen. Anthony Williams' constituent services office. In August, Crews organized a fundraising basketball tournament. He planned for a handful of teams to compete and raise money for the schools. He ended up with 16 teams, 160 players on four courts and thousands in donations. He's also organized two online fundraising campaigns for his alma mater, Comegys Elementary School, and his wife's, Bryant Elementary.

Crews, 37, said it's disheartening to see how much has changed in just a few generations.

"I still remember when you didn't have a floppy disk or something, the teacher would just get one from the supply closet," he said.

But as bad as things are, Crews said it's hard not to be inspired with so many people stepping up to fill the gap that increasingly resembles more of a black hole.

"The community isn't just laying down and accepting it," he said. "They are doing whatever they can to help. People want to give, but it helps to make it fun."

Enter Anittah Patrick, another Philly resident. Patrick recently had the inspired idea to start a #StackThatPaper campaign that has all the potential of becoming the Philadelphia school system's version of the ALS ice-bucket challenge. Hey, hate on that campaign all you want, but in addition to filling up your Facebook stream with folks you'd rather not see in wet T-shirts, it's also raised a lot of money for a good cause.

Patrick, a product of public schools in her home state of Indiana, taught middle-school students in New Haven, Conn. She saw firsthand that not all public schools are funded equally. But she also knows that people and businesses, especially in the private sector, don't always know how to help.

When her boss at Leadnomics, an online marketing and technology company based in Philadelphia, visited a city school, he asked her to figure out how they could help. She remembered a woman in her book club mentioning that her husband, a math teacher, had to buy all his own paper. She got to thinking.

Who has paper? Patrick asked herself. Businesses.

Who needs paper? Schools.

But how to get people on board?

"I'm a little bit crazy," she said. "So I wanted to come up with something that was a little bit amusing and visible and unexpected."

Patrick pledged to donate as many stacks of paper to Philadelphia's public schools as she could support on her back while planking - while being filmed.

And now she and her company are asking other Philly-based companies to get in on the competition and donate, too. Winner gets bragging rights.

For all the details go to http://ph.ly/StackThatPaper.

And no worries if you are camera-shy or have a bad back. You can stack your desk, your company refrigerator, your company car. You can also just contribute money. The possibilities for people and businesses to get in on the fun, and a good cause, are endless.

The goal is simple, Patrick said: "You don't need to be planking, you don't need to be superwoman . . ."

You just have to be somebody who gives a damn.

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

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