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/ Source: TODAY Contributor
By Lisa Flam

For years, the children at Village Preschool in Hampton, New Hampshire, have dropped spare change into a plastic jar — their small way of helping the school. But on Monday morning, the jar — and the $300 to $400 it held for new playground equipment — had vanished.

“I felt somebody else needed it more than we did,” the school’s executive director, Ginny Bridle, told TODAY.com. “I was angry at first. Yeah, I’m sad, but I realized that somebody was desperate enough to take the money and really needed it.”

That’s the message she shared with the preschool’s 25 students. “We talked a lot about it,” she said, keeping a positive attitude all the while. “Unfortunately this happened, but good things are going to come of it.”

Ginny Bridle of Village Preschool
Ginny Bridle, executive director of the Village Preschool in Hampton, New Hampshire, said she initially felt sad and angry about the theft until she realized "good things are going to come of it."Courtesy of Angela Twombly

And good things most certainly did. After word of the missing money spread via the school’s Facebook page, donations began coming in. By Wednesday morning, Bridle said the nonprofit school had received $2,500, and now a new climbing structure is on the way.

“There’s donations large and small from everybody: community members, parents, former parents and former students,” Bridle said, adding that police have no leads on the theft. “It’s been really a great thing.”

The coin jar, a large Poland Springs bottle, had been on a shelf at the school for seven years, and was last emptied two years ago. The change donated by students, parents, teachers and people in town paid for several additions to the playground over the years, and the kids always felt proud when a purchase was made.

“It’s our idea of how everyone can contribute,” Bridle said. “No matter how large or small their donation is, it all counts.”

The same lesson is playing out with the donations.

“We are seeing the same thing the coin jar stood for,” Bridle said. “The donations are coming in small and large, but altogether, they’re making a difference in the community.”

Mom Melissa Eckert said she cried upon learning the money was gone. She said the school has been great for her 5-year-old son, Alex, and for her as well. When Eckert fell behind in tuition payments as she was treated for metastatic thyroid cancer, Bridle twice found an organization to help with her bill.

“I didn’t even ask her for help,” Eckert said. “She just takes it upon herself to find a way to help you.”

Melissa Eckert and her son, Alex
Melissa Eckert and her son, Alex, love the Village Preschool.Courtesy of Melissa Eckert

And, she said, the teachers are terrific with Alex, a boy so active he “is like having five kids.”

“They’re just so giving, so honest, so sweet and they’re very, very genuine people,” Eckert said, who set up a fundraising page to help the school after the money vanished. “They’re wonderful with the kids. You couldn’t ask for a better place.”

Had the person who swiped the money asked her for help, Bridle says she would have given it.

“We try to help everybody who walks through the door,” she said. “If they had told me they needed the money, we would have given them the jar.”

The school, which offers sliding-scale tuition for families in need, has never turned away a student in more than two decades of operation, Bridle said. The donations coming in prove what a great town Hampton is, she said, and that her school is a valued part of the community.

“We feel every child deserves an opportunity,” Bridle said, “and obviously that’s being embraced by the Hampton community as well.”

TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.