An Ohio middle-school teacher hoping to teach her students the value of charitable giving also gave them a lesson in the power of online communities this week.

For the past five years, students at Mayfield Heights Middle School have raised money for a Cleveland-area crisis nursery called Providence House. Teacher Sandra Bean would then take a couple dozen students to a local Target store to buy diapers and other baby items on the nursery’s urgent-needs list.

Last Monday, when Bean called Target to arrange a Friday-morning shopping trip, the store manager allegedly told her not to come, since the store would not have enough cashiers to accommodate the kids and their $2,000 worth of purchases.
 
That night, a furious Bean complained about it on her Facebook page. Though Bean deleted her original Facebook post by the next morning, comments she made on other Facebook walls remain up, like this one:

“I pos[t]ed below, about how my student council raises $$ and shops for Providence House. I just wanted to say that our Target store just refused to accomodate us and will not accept the $$ ($2k) my students have raised to buy items for the House. This would have been our fifth year shopping there, and we were rudely told by Shelly, the manager, that checking out such a quantity of items gets in the way of accomodating other guests (at 9 am? Give me a break). I thought you'd be disappointed on our behalf! Shame on Target.”

And Cleveland news radio station WTAM had already copied Bean’s original complaint, which had already generated hundreds of additional Facebook posts and comments on Twitter.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer picked up the story and reported that Target executives, upon learning of Bean’s complaint, quickly contacted her to apologize. The local Walmart also stepped in, inviting Bean and her students to shop there and donating $250 to Providence House.

Not surprisingly, the Facebook response has been mostly in favor of Bean and her students, with one Facebooker telling Bean: “it's atrocious, what a disgrace!!!! i've never been so angry for someone and i don't even know you sandy but this has just set me on fire!”

The Twitterverse was also overwhelmingly in favor of Bean and her students, with comments like “Shame on Target Mayfield store” being the norm.

But Mayfield Heights locals commenting on the Plain Dealer story (which topped the paper’s “most commented” list for the week) were more divided. Royalton_Guy said, “One employee made a mistake and this crybaby … wants heads to roll. It was not the intention of Target to impede on her experience. It was one employee. Grow up!”

Saltessio agreed, adding, “The sad part is [the store manager] made a mistake and she is getting crucified for it. I am sure she realizes her error but to publicly humiliate this woman in such a wide venue is wrong. I wonder if Ms. Bean realizes the amount of anxiety she has created for a woman working in retail.”

But other locals sided entirely with Bean. Ingyandbert said: “Oh, please! A store employee who tells a customer who intends to spend thousands not to shop there doesn't deserve the job.”

Fortunately for Providence House, the controversy ended almost as quickly as it started, with the Plain Dealer now reporting that the Target field trip is back on schedule; this Friday, the middle school students will bring the $2,113 they already raised, and Target has chipped in another $400.

Photo via Cleveland City Planning Commission