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When Sonoma Valley teacher Kristina Reguero Garrison asks, people deliver. And she counts complete strangers among her supporters.

Since 2006, the Flowery Elementary School first grade teacher has pitched 44 projects on the education fundraising web site DonorsChoose.org, 42 of which were fully funded by donor contributions.

"It's empowering," Reguero Garrison said of the charity site. "You don't have to wait for the funding to come down. You have an idea and if people like the idea, they fund it."

There are currently 24 pitches from Sonoma County teachers on DonorsChoose.org, proposing nearly $13,000 in classroom projects.

The site, launched in 2000 by a teacher in New York City who began pitching his classroom project ideas to potential donors, has generated $194 million in project funding from 1.2 million donors. The funds have affected 9.5 million students, according to the organization which has earned the highest possible rating from nonprofit watchdog Charity Navigator.

Teachers can post the parameters of their project or need, itemize their request from a list of selected vendors and post online a total financial request. Donors can then give as little as $1 toward the project. If the total isn't reached in the alotted time, donors can redirect their funds to another project, save them for a later donation or give the money directly to the teacher.

"This year, we expect 250,000 individual donors," said former school teacher Melanie Duppins, who is now senior director of policy and learning for DonorsChoose.org. "A lot of that has to do with people really sympathizing with teachers and not really knowing what they can do, but wanting to do something. We tend to be that something."

The pitch also includes a description of the school, including its students' poverty level. Those profiles are largely outdated, Dubbins said, and DonorsChoose.org is exploring updating the categories.

Duppins countered claims that help sought through programs like DonorsChoose.org is akin to asking teachers to beg for supplies.

"Our response to that is we exist right now because of what is, not because of what could or should be," she said. "The truth is, this is what teachers need right now and right now you can still do something about it."

Between 2007-08 and 2012-13, state revenue to Sonoma County schools has dropped approximately 18 percent. Factor in cost-of-living adjustments that have been withheld or are in the negative in recent years, the net loss surges to 23 percent, according to the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Those cuts leave teachers scrambling to fulfill needs both elemental and enriching in classrooms, area educators said.

El Verano Elementary School fifth grade teacher Amber Williams is currently asking for a $477 K'Nex building set. In the past, she has asked for classroom library books and other basics.

At El Verano, where 80 percent of students are English language learners and 94 percent qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, Williams can have students with reading levels that span from first grade to seventh grade — in one room. That disparity calls for a large and varied in-class library, she said.

Her classroom allowance couldn't possibly cover the cost of scores of new books.

"I probably have over 500 books that I have from just (DonorsChoose.org)," she said.

DonorsChoose.org requires teachers to communicate with donors, calling for pictures to be posted of kids using the tools donated and, in some cases, writing personal thank you notes to contributors.

Teachers who don't follow through are docked points they need to accumulate to post their next project proposal.

"That is a really big deal to us because that donor may not give again," Duppins said of the required thank yous. "If the teacher does not respond, that might hurt another teacher."

Maria Carrillo High School English teacher Julia Cooper said she involves her students in the actual unpacking of the supplies — which is typically two weeks after the funding threshold is met.

"If I have a class that is particularly book friendly, I'll take (the books) out and read the backs to them, so they think, 'Oh I want to take that one out,'" she said.

Cooper once got funded the purchase of 100 books that were recommended for every high school student before graduation.

She has struck out on pitches to buy a hi-tech overhead monitor and another to buy basic supplies like paper and pencils. Books seem to strike a chord with donors, she said.

Teaching veteran Laura Flores said she decided to post her first DonorsChoose.org pitch this year after seeing a colleague at Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School in the Roseland School District receive multiple deliveries. She is asking for $1,075 in "dramatic play" corner supplies.

It hasn't yet generated much donor interest.

"I just think that people's perceptions about playing right now — I think we are so academic right now," she said. "But they need that time to develop their language in a place that is not structured."

For Reguero Garrison, the strategy for success is consistency. She typically has one project posted at all times. And she varies her requests — from the mundane paper and pencil pitch to a field trip sponsor to a set of classroom abacuses.

The abacus request was filled seven years ago by the grandmother of one of her first grade students.

Her current class still uses them.

Parents and students might move on through the system and leave her room behind, but many of the donations continue to have an impact for years, she said.

"The materials live on," she said.

(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.)

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