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Community rallies to replace stolen pumpkins

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013 6:00 am

"Trick or Treat?" has a new meaning this Halloween season for students at Speake School. A nasty trick was followed by an unexpected treat.

As part of the Lawrence County Agriculture Initiative, Speake School has planted gardens in different areas of the school grounds. One special garden grew pumpkins.

Last Halloween the pumpkin garden provided enough pumpkins for every kindergarten student to have a personal pumpkin to paint and take home. The plan was to do the same thing this year.

"Someone stole the pumpkins," said Principal Tina Blankenship. "They only left the ones with bad spots on them. It is one of the worst things to happen."

The pumpkins were planted behind the baseball field. Eddie Coker, who teaches agriculture and math, thought that was a good place.

"It was out of the way, kind of hidden. I never thought someone would take them," he said.

"I want whoever took the pumpkins to know they stole them from kindergarten students," Blankenship said.

Of course, the Speake students went home and told their parents the news about the pumpkins being stolen. The theft really bothered Tyler Campbell, whose daughter, Kiya, was supposed to have a pumpkin to paint.

"I called Mrs. Blankenship and asked her if I could put the theft on Facebook," Campbell said. "She said it was OK. I asked people to donate pumpkins or just a little money to buy pumpkins."

Blankenship was not prepared for the community support that poured in.

"Our telephone started ringing with people wanting to help," Blankenship said.

As she was trying to coordinate the help being offered, Blankenship got a call from Walmart.

"They asked what we needed and donated enough pumpkins for all our kindergarten students," she said.

Blankenship picked up the pumpkins last week.

Mike Durham, Walmart store manager, said he was happy to help out.

"We are part of the community," he said.

"They were big pumpkins, too," Blankenship pointed out.

But help was still on the way. Lana Flannagin who operates the Yellow Wolf Gem Mining attraction in Lawrence Coounty, also came to the rescue.

"She donated 20 pumpkins for our pre-K students to have to paint," Blankenship said.

What started out as one of the worst things to happen turned out to be a really good thing, Blankenship said.

Coker said that growing the pumpkins was not just for kindergarten students to  paint. He included his math students in on the project. Last year, the math students weighed the pumpkins, tracked how the pumpkins grew and measured the circumference.

"They even helped the kindergarten students carry the pumpkins to the classroom," Coker said.

Blankenship said the pumpkins are just one part of the gardening project at Speake.

"The gardens help students understand where food comes from and what it looks like before it is cooked," she said.

The school gardens don't grow enough to provide a significant supply to the lunchroom but the kids do get to taste the produce grown.

"We have used some potatoes," Blankenship said.

Learning to share is also an important lesson for the children. Produce from the school gardens has been donated to senior citizens in the community.

But it is not only produce involved in Speake's agriculture endeavors. The school has a few chickens who lay eggs.

"The students are fascinated by brown eggs," Blankenship said.

Campbell said he does not want any credit for the community's response.

"It just made me mad," he said. "All I did was report what happened and the community did the rest."

Blankenship wondered if the pumpkins were stolen to be sold at a market or roadside stand.

Campbell said he thought the thieves were teenagers who took the pumpkins for target practice.

Coker is making plans now for the school gardens for new year.

"I think I am going to plant the pumpkins in the plot out front and put up a sign that says they are for kindergarten students," he said.

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