GULF BREEZE — When teacher Kristin Ardis went to Walmart on Wednesday to purchase school supplies for her classroom, she left not only with a cart full of school supplies but with a full heart and a story she hopes will inspire others to do good.
Ardis teaches English to about 130 eighth-grade students at Woodlawn Beach Middle School in Gulf Breeze. She said she was at the school Wednesday getting her classroom ready for students when she realized she needed a few things, so she went to the Tiger Point Walmart to stock up.
“I filled the cart with just the things I thought I would need for the year,” said Ardis, who added she put pencil boxes, highlighters, erasers, paper and dry-erase markers in her cart.
When she got to the checkout line, she said she began talking to the man in front of her, who was there with his wife.
“He asked if I was a schoolteacher, and I said that I was, and he said he remembered when his kids were young and it had been a long time since he’d purchased school supplies,” Ardis said. “He said, ‘I bet you’re spending your own money on those supplies,’ and I said, ‘yes.’ ”
What happened next left Ardis in tears.
“He said, ‘Well, I want to pay for those,’ and he handed money to the cashier and paid for my basket,” she said.
Ardis said her eyes welled up with tears and she thanked the man, who left shortly after paying. Ardis’ supplies cost about $90 and the man had given the cashier two $20 bills, so she paid the remaining $50 and left the store. By the time she was in the parking lot, she said the man and his wife had already left.
She didn’t even get their names.
Ardis said the school gives teachers $100 each school year to pay for supplies, and the state of Florida gives them $239. Still, Ardis said she ends up spending about $1,000 a year of her own money to fully stock her classroom with all the supplies her students need.
In her 15 years of teaching, she said it was the first time someone had helped her pay for school supplies.
The man’s gesture left her speechless, and she posted about her experience on Facebook with the hope it would inspire other people to pay it forward.
“It was really sweet and it just touched me, because that doesn’t happen very often,” she said. “I think sometimes teachers’ jobs are difficult and sometimes we can be unrecognized, so I’m just so thankful that he did that for me.”
Ardis said school starts for teachers on Aug. 6 and for students on Aug. 13. She can’t wait for her students to come back so she can tell them about the man’s random act of kindness that contributed to their ability to learn.
“My students in Room 326 will benefit from what that man did,” she said. “I’m super thankful and wanted to get the word out. ... It made my whole day, and probably my whole year.
"I will tell my kids that this happened and how we can all pay it forward.”