06/13/2013 02:41 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2013

28 Letters

I received 28 letters in the mail recently. Twenty eight actual hand-written-on-three-punch-loose-leaf-paper letters. They reminded me of my high school experience; those long ago days when computers didn't fit in our pockets. Blue ink and black. Mostly print, some cursive. I read each one with an interest that I just don't give to email. Something about the effort that goes in to hand-written letters commands my attention.

And those 28 letters were certainly worthy of my attention. Each one was a thank you from a student at a Los Angeles high school in desperate need of new books. I learned about them via the online charity Public school teachers from all over the country post classroom requests and as a donor, you're free to choose where your money goes. The requests are often quite modest, but the difference it makes to these mostly low-income students is anything but.

This particular appeal was for funds to purchase new copies of John Steinbeck's iconic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Really, that's it. Something so many might take for granted. Something so many do take for granted. Supplies for schools in low-income neighborhoods run woefully short. In their letters to me, student after student expressed gratitude for their very first brand new book. Never in their educational lives were they given the opportunity to read a book that wasn't torn, yellowed, or damaged in some way. Never. These students are juniors in high school and this was a first for them.

If that's shocking to you, you're not alone. Many of us take for granted the schools our kids attend with their clean classrooms, abundant resources and working bathrooms. (One letter I received explained there are only two usable bathrooms for over 1,600 students.) Rightly so, we get caught up in teacher quality and curriculum, but we forget that there are students all over the country who lack the basic tools of learning. Students are frequently left to rely either on the generosity of their teachers (buying supplies out of their own pocket) or simply making do with what little they have, which explains 11th graders who never had a new book before.

So I read every one of those 28 letters feeling happy that I had helped supply brand new copies of a literary classic to students in need. But the more I read, the more I realized that it wasn't really about the material things. I have one student in particular to thank for that. So Alicia, thank you for this:

Some may think that donating a couple of books means nothing, but when you have little, the little things mean the most. Going to a high school in the community we live in, people often lose hope in us and feel like we are not going to succeed. I would like to thank you so much for believing in us.
Sincerely, Alicia

Doesn't get much better than that.