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Battle Creek community rallies after several fruit trees go missing from school

Community rallies after school says several trees stolen. (WWMT/Sam Knef)
Community rallies after school says several trees stolen. (WWMT/Sam Knef)
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The leader of Battle Creek Montessrori Academy said an important Earth Day project was almost derailed after hundreds of dollars worth of tree saplings came up missing, but students got to digging a few days late Wednesday, thanks to community members.

On Monday, when students stepped outside to the back of the school, which is fenced in, a green house bag filled with about 10 to 15 saplings was gone. Battle Creek Montessrori Academy Leader Jessica Eldridge said the staff originally thought an animal may have gotten to the bag.

"We looked through the woods, couldn't find them, kind of realized that someone may have taken them," Eldridge said.

The school staff spent about $200 on the trees last October for Principal Appreciation Month. Planting the trees was going to be an Earth Day project designed to teach kids how to grow their own food. Students' excitement turned to disappointment.

"I personally was like really sad about it, because Earth Day is supposed to be about being outside," said eight grader Jasmine Rey. "This is a project that us as children were going to do."

Her digging partner Scarlett Ramon, also an eighth grader, said, "Why would you take our trees? I mean, they're just trees, right?"

The school posted about the apparent tree theft on Facebook and immediately, Eldridge said, people responded.

"We started getting calls right away, like how many trees? How many do you need? What else do you need? And here we are today," Eldridge said, surrounded by potted fruit trees in her office.

Apple, peach, pear, cherry and plum trees. The school ended up receiving more than 20 trees, far more than it began with. Husky Tree Service provided 15 of them. People also donated money for the school to buy additional trees.

Eldridge kept the new trees, which are much farther along in their growth that the saplings were, in her office for safekeeping. On Wednesday, the kids, using shovels and fertilizer that were also donated, finally got to plant them.

"It made me feel really happy that everyone wanted to donate their own money to be able to help the earth, and be able to help our school," Rey said.

It may be a few years before kids get to see, or eat the fruits of their labor, but Eldridge said the whole ordeal provided some more immediate lessons: to not give up when things get tough, and to help others in their time of need.

"So it's been really great to feel all that love and kindness for something that could've been a really bad day, turned out to be a really great day," Eldridge said.

Students planted most of the donated trees Wednesday, and some additional trees may be planted Thursday.

Eldridge said she hasn't filed a police report, and doesn't plan to.

“I don’t think they did it to be mean or intentional. I think they just saw a big package out there and thought it might be something interesting in it, and it was just trees. We’d love to have them back though, if they’ve realized like, oh those are trees. Just drop them back out there," she said.

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