Have you ever received an email in error that wasn't addressed to you?
Little did teacher and longtime Lodi resident David Phelps know after he read the message in his inbox that it would change the lives of his students and a girl they've never met.
Riley Simmons had a large brain tumor — between her cerebellum and brain stem — removed this week. She just turned 9 and lives in Ripon, although she's currently housed in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at UCSF Children's Hospital in San Francisco.
Phelps didn't know her or her family until he received the incorrectly addressed email.
Still, the misdirected email has resulted in an outpouring of selflessness by his fifth-grade class at Oak View Elementary School in Acampo. The students decided to scrap their annual gift exchange and use the money to buy something special for Riley.
"I thought, 'Oh, here's another one for Dana Phelps,' but I happened to look at it. It was an update on what was going on with this little girl," Phelps said Friday. "I felt bad for her being sick, especially this time of year."
When the teacher shared the story with his students, they were excited to help out, he said.
Since receiving the email a few days ago, he regularly posts photos of the girl for the class to see.
"They're excited to see how she's doing," he said. "This group I have this year is such a caring group. I'm really proud of them."
This is not the first time Phelps' students have done something nice for strangers. Last year, they purchased and took wrapped gifts to St. Mary's Church in Stockton to distribute to homeless families.
"My primary goal is for them to think of someone else, not just themselves. This time of year it's, 'What can I get for Christmas?'" Phelps said, adding that he was looking for already looking for a similar project when the email landed in his inbox.
Riley's grandmother Mary Keeney, who has been maintaining the website www.caringbridge.org/visit/rileysimmons with regular updates on the girl's treatment, said the family has been touched by the group's kindness.
"It's certainly an uplifting story," she said.
Phelps' class plans to send Riley some hand-written letters and enclose photos of themselves. They're currently collecting money, and next week will either donate funds for her care or for gifts, or a combination of both.
Oak View principal Beverly Boone learned of Phelps' email earlier this week when Riley's aunt emailed her. Kerry Keeney wanted Boone to know how moved she was by Phelps' class.
"(It) has brought me to tears and happiness that there are so many caring young people in the world today," she wrote to the principal before extending an offer to the school or the class to help with future fundraising.
"I know there are many people who would like to share their appreciation to Mr. Phelps and his students for sharing their Christmas joy with Riley and her family," Kerry Keeney said.
Boone couldn't help but share the exchange and how it touched her.
"I know that hearing about this act of kindness by his class made me slow down for a moment, appreciate my blessings and think about giving to others in need," she said.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.