LATHROP – This is a story about a thief stealing something near and dear to the hearts of several preschoolers.
Definitely a sad story. But it has a happy ending!
No, it’s not because the heartless thief was suddenly overwhelmed by pangs of guilt and decided to return the stolen “trike,” the youngsters’ pet name for their favorite tricycle. Nor did the police eventually find the children’s favorite big red trike and had brought it back to The Learning Tree preschool where the unfortunate incident took place.
It’s how the community has responded – and is still responding – to this callous and cold-hearted act by a dreg of society that is giving this deplorable story a happy ending.
Learning Tree owner Connie Lum Perez summed it all up in one simple sentence: “Our Lathrop Community ROCKS!”
For one thing, the Lathrop Post Office next door to the school has collected $175 toward the purchase of a new trike for the crestfallen youngsters.
The touching note that accompanied the donation reads: “We, at the Post Office, heard about your tricycle and decided to help you out. Always remember, something good always comes out of something bad. Hope this helps.” Signed: Your neighbors, Lathrop Post Office.
The signs that the school placed on the fence and front window about the stolen trike have drawn many responses.
“The most overwhelming comment has been, ‘How could someone steal from a preschool?” Lum Perez noted.
“One person in particular, Angela, a postal worker, came over from our neighboring post office and asked to see what type of trike was stolen. She said to me, ‘I’m going to take up a collection to replace it.’ The cost to replace this trike is over $200.”
A few days later, Angela went to the school and handed Lum Perez an envelope containing money that the Lathrop postal employees have collected. With the money was the hand-written letter to the kids and the school.
Commander Charles C. McGonegal of the American Legion Post 632 also stopped by the preschool after reading the sign to ask about the missing kids’ three-wheeler. Lathrop Police Chief Danelle Hohe has also visited the school to find out what the trike looked like.
Lum Perez said the preschoolers learned a very hard lesson from the theft of their favorite tricycle. But it was even harder for her to break the bad news to the kids once she found out what happened.
“That morning (Monday), when I first noticed our back gate ajar, I was hoping the wind had blown it open over the weekend. We’ve been open in Lathrop since 1984 and have never had a theft of anything or any kind – never in almost 30 years. So, imagine my disappointment when I saw that one of our favorite red trikes was missing. It was the big red trike and it had been stolen. I really didn’t know how to tell the kids…, so I waited. When it was time for outdoors, they came out and immediately went for the trikes. They looked… and then looked again… then they asked me. ‘Where is the big trike?’ It was then that I knew they had to know the truth,” Lum Perez recalled in an e-mail.
When she did gather the children together, the discussion that ensued turned into a valuable lesson “about taking things that don’t belong to us, who might be able to help us (police), and if we don’t ever get it back then saving enough dollars to replace it,” she said.
“The kids are amazing… the boys turned into their favorite superheroes ready to overtake the ‘mean guy’ and get our trike back. Our girls, who are princess heroines, of courses, also joined in and offered their ‘princess money’ to help buy another trike.”
The following day, the children drew picture stories about what happened to their favorite recreation toy.
“By now, they’ve added a policeman – we were headed to Lathrop Police Department (next door in the same building on Seventh Street) to make a report,” Lum Perez continued the story.
At the police office, they were met by Officer James who gave the children stickers. They also received a “personal handshake and promise of help from Chief Hohe.” Officer Carlos took the report about the theft.
“The preschoolers have been empowered and I’m so very proud of them,” said a very impressed Lum Perez.
Hopefully, the happy ending will eventually include the return of the children’s favorite red trike and that justice will prevail to the lowlife who not only stole the young ones’ toy but, to some degree, their innocence.