A shockingly heartless theft from a local children’s program recently shined a heartwarming spotlight on the West Coast’s loving comradery.
“I’m feeling super overwhelmed with gratitude for how much support the community showed and how they just turned this awful act of somebody into an amazing act of so many other people,” Heather Fleming, owner and operator of the Tofino Nature Kids program, told the Westerly News.
A thief, or thieves, broke into the program’s storage shed at Chesterman Beach sometime between Aug. 22-24, making off with a dry-bag that contained various items needed to take the 3-12 year old participants on nature walks and hikes throughout the region.
“Basically one of the 2x4s that holds the lock on was ripped off; the screws were fully ripped out,” Fleming said.
Included among the snatched items were face masks related to COVID-19, epipens, bandanas and toilet paper and a hand-washing bin containing two beach towels used for picnics was also snatched.
She added that whoever took the bag removed a first aid kit and some other contents before running off.
“They knew it was a valuable bag and they took that and quickly took out a couple items and then took the rest,” she said adding she is not optimistic that the bag will be returned.
“I don’t imagine whoever stole it would be sticking around town much.”
Fleming said she reported the theft to police and then reached out to the West Coast through social media asking if anyone had seen the bag or knew anything about who had stolen it. While she didn’t receive any leads on the bag’s whereabouts, she was quickly covered in a blanket of support from her community.
“People were super shocked that someone would reach that low to be stealing from kids,” she said adding the thief had to have known the bag belonged to the program because the shed and contents within it are clearly marked with Tofino Nature Kids branding.
She said she instantly began receiving messages from people wanting to help as locals quickly rallied around her to replace the stolen items with a new bag and supplies.
Fleming said she then received a message from a parent of one of the kids in the program who offered to launch a GoFundMe campaign, so she suggested raising funds for a new shed would be ideal.
“I had already received incredible community support to replace all the items from businesses and individuals,” she said.
Wow! Wow! Wow! I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Thank you SOOO much to everyone that donated and shared kind words of…
She added though that while the items had been replaced, a new shed could help prevent future thefts.
The campaign quickly gained traction and reached it’s $3,000 goal in just about three days.
“I was blown away, really. I was speechless. I appreciate how much support the community just gave and so many people I don’t know donated, which is really amazing,” she said, adding an anonymous donation of $1,000 came in.
“It’s really nice. With COVID-19, I’ve been working really hard to make it so that this program could open and it just shows me how much the community really appreciates all the work that myself and my team have put into making this program successful this summer. Knowing that they have my back means a lot to me and helps support me in continuing to run programs knowing that the hard work that I’m doing is really appreciated.”