— -- A first grader's heartbreaking letter to Santa has spurred a flood of donations, after her teacher shared the humble wish list on social media.
Ruth Espiricueta, a first-grade teacher at Monte Cristo Elementary School in Edinburg, Texas, asked her students this week to write a letter to Santa Claus about something they want and something they need, after a lesson about the difference between the two. When school was dismissed for the day, Espiricueta began reading the letters and was taken aback in particular by one student's note.
The 7-year-old girl wrote to Santa, “I have [been] good this day. This Christmas I would like a ball and a food. I need a [blanket].”
"I never expected for students to ask for things we usually take for granted," Espiricueta told ABC News. "I was heartbroken because no one should ever go hungry or be cold on winter nights."
The next day, Espiricueta asked the student about her letter to Santa. The girl said she wanted a ball, rather than a doll, so both she and her brother could play with the toy. She told the teacher she wanted eggs for food.
"I had no idea she was going through hard times being that she is always at school with a big smile," Espiricueta said of her student. "Her act of unselfishness made me realize that I needed to share this with others."
The girl was not the only student to ask for basic necessities in her letter to Santa, Espiricueta said.
"Unfortunately, there are other students that as part of their needs they included food, towels, blankets, pillows, bed, clothes, shoes and a stove," the teacher told ABC News. "Some of my students were not even excited about Christmas because they know that their parents can not afford to buy a Christmas tree or gifts for them."
More than one in five children in Texas -- about 22.4 percent -- live in poverty, according to 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Espiricueta said she couldn't bear the thought of her own child going hungry or cold. So she shared a photo of her student's letter on Facebook on Wednesday, hoping to help the students and their families in need. People immediately offered to donate to the student as well as to others at the school.
The letter inspired the principal at Monte Cristo Elementary School to start a donation drive, with a goal of collecting 724 blankets to give to each student. So far, 616 blankets have been donated.
"She is happy her friends will also be receiving a blanket to stay warm," Espiricueta said.