Thievery leads to giving
Preschool plans 1st ‘pumpkin festival’

       A preschool's double encounter with pumpkin thieves - followed both times by support from good-hearted citizens - has prompted what may become a fall tradition on the Westside.
       The Ruth Washburn Cooperative Nursery School, 914 N. 19th St., will hold its “first annual pumpkin festival” Satur-day, Oct. 18 from 10 a.m. to noon, according to school Director Sarah Carlile. “We want to thank the community and give back,” she said.
       Free and open to the public, the event on the 2-acre property will include face painting, playground activities, apple-bobbing, a scavenger hunt, leaf-jumping and “all sort of things,” she said.
       There also will be a pumpkin giveaway. The preschool now has about 200 pumpkins - a result of the community's generosity in the wake of the burglaries over the past two weekends. “We want to give all the kids in our school (107 total) a pumpkin and give away the rest,” Carlile said. “If people want to donate pumpkins for the festival, they're welcome to do so. The more, the merrier.”
       The first burglary resulted in the loss of 30 pumpkins that the kids had grown from seeds. The vegetables had been in the school's garden, waiting to be harvested. When the news of this theft got out, members of the community stepped forward with 80 replacements, Carlile said.
       But the next weekend, 30 of those were stolen from the garden too - and, on top of that, the school's outside sprinkler system was torn apart and all its copper stolen.
       Again, the community responded. Not only did the donated-pumpkin total reach 200, a local landscaper volunteered to fix the sprinklers at no charge (parts alone were estimated at $600) and an area business has contracted with a company to provide round-the-clock security at Washburn through Halloween.
       These and others who have stepped forward have no ties to the school. “They just heard about our story and wanted to help,” Carlile said. “It's kind of priceless, people stepping up and helping us like that.”
       The children were sad about losing the pumpkins that they grew themselves, but the school has tried to find a positive side to the experience, and the festival is a part of that. “The big lesson is that someone took from us, then people gave to us, and now we have an abundance and we want to give back,” she said.
       Police have as yet announced no suspects in the burglaries.
       Run as a non-profit organization that relies on parents for direction and classroom assistance, Ruth Washburn was started in 1961 and has been on 19th Street since 1974.

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