Eastgate Elementary overflowing with pumpkins after donations

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 10, 2012 

Editor's note: This corrects Chocolate the dog's breed.

Yes Virginia, there is a Great Pumpkin. Or several.

Kindergartners at Eastgate Elementary School in Kennewick won't be without pumpkins this Halloween after all, despite someone raiding the school's pumpkin patch last weekend.

Principal Niki Arnold-Smith said she had been getting calls all day from people wanting to help after they read about the theft in Tuesday's Herald.

By the end of the day, neighbors, businesses and other citizens had donated more than 300 pumpkins, replenishing the barren patch.

Even the owners of Chocolate the dog, who received $450 from Eastgate students five years ago when the Chesapeake Bay retriever was found abandoned with two broken legs, wanted to donate some pumpkins for the kids.

"I had a fifth-grader a couple years ago and that would have made her cry all day," said James Ortega, owner of the Sandstone Cafe in downtown Kennewick.

Ortega said he and friends talked about the theft over coffee Tuesday morning. Then he drove to the nearby Red Apple Market, bought 18 pumpkins and dropped them off at Eastgate.

And there were many others.

Workers at Bellinger Farms of Hermiston planned to drop off some pumpkins and neighbors donated a few from their own garden.

Jason Turner, a salesman for Logan-Zenner Seeds in Pasco, gave 100 pumpkins grown at the company's facility on Commercial Avenue.

"It's been really great for the kids to see the community cares," Arnold-Smith said.

Delores Olsen of Kennewick dropped off 20 pumpkins at the school with the help of her caregiver, Mary Anne Mason. Olsen said she contacted the Wal-Mart she shops at and asked if they'd be willing to give her the pumpkins for the school.

"(The manager) called me back and said, 'Yeah, we can do it,' " Olsen said.

And Arnold-Smith and two other school staffers were invited out to Robert Cox Farms near Benton City on Tuesday to pick up some pumpkins from the 250 acres they harvest and provide to supermarkets.

It was Cox's 27-year-old son, Cody, who invited the school officials out. He said one of the farm's tractor drivers told him about the pumpkin patch theft and he approached his mother, Vickie Cox.

"I told her I'm going to get pumpkins to them even if I have to load them," he said.

Arnold-Smith said school employees eventually brought back 90 pumpkins piled in a staffer's pickup.

With all the donations, Arnold-Smith said the plan is to give kindergartners first choice for a pumpkin to take home, then the first-graders and on up will get one until all the pumpkins are gone.

There won't be enough for every one of the more than 500 students at Eastgate, but everyone still is amazed by the support that's been shown.

"There are still good people out there," said Vickie Cox.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com

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