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Donation jar with $300 stolen from N.H. preschool, and students ask why

The students at Village Preschool in Hampton, N.H., know not to take toys or crayons from their classmates, so they’re struggling to understand why someone would steal their school’s donation jar with more than $300 inside.

Ginny Bridle, the executive director and principal of the nonprofit preschool, said the staff and students noticed the jar was missing during “circle time” Monday morning. It was last seen on the afternoon of Aug. 6, when the preschool closed for the week.

The school shares a two-story building at 200 High St. with a church, which uses the building on weekends for events. Though Bridle said she’s spoken to several of the church’s leaders, no one had information about who might have taken the jar.

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“All we know is someone needed it more than we did,” Bridle said.

Melissa Eckert, who sends her son to the preschool, said the organization’s charitable outlook makes the theft even more heartbreaking.

“If the person who took the jar had walked in and said, ‘I need this money,’ they would have said, ‘Go ahead, and take it,’ ” Eckert said. “They do everything they can for families in need.”

Village Preschool operates on students’ tuition and donations from the community, but the school’s leaders have made it their mission to never turn a student away for any reason, whether financial or behavioral.

When Eckert, 33, was forced to put her 5-year-old son’s tuition money toward her cancer treatments, she said Bridle found a local organization to cover the payment.

“Ginny would Facebook message me to say, ‘Please do not ever keep Alex home because of money,’ ” Eckert said. “There’s no better place for your kid. I’ve never met nicer, more genuine people in my life, and for anyone to take anything from them, it’s so sad.”

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Throughout the academic year and summer, parents, staff, and students put donations in the 5-gallon Poland Spring water bottle, which has been at the preschool for seven years.

Each fall, the money raised goes toward purchasing or upgrading something for the school.

“We put a coin jar there because not everyone can give $5, but everyone can give something,” Bridle said. “The penny that a child saved over the weekend is just as important as the $100 that someone else can give us.”

Since Monday, members of the community have stepped up to help make the school whole after the theft.

This year, the money was supposed to buy a climbing structure for the playground, so a local family who had sent all three of their children to Village Preschool donated the piece of equipment.

Eckert also created an online fund-raiser Monday afternoon, and surpassed the $1,000 goal within 24 hours.

Bridle said she is teaching the 25 children at the preschool’s summer camp — all 6 years old and younger — not to be angry at the person who took the money. But many are struggling to understand why anyone “took what wasn’t theirs.”

“Somebody was desperate and needed the money,” she said. “No matter who you are and where you’re from, you deserve a chance, and that’s what Village Preschool is about.”


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.