EMPIRE — Call it a bad start to a great year. Thanks to helping hands from near and far, Empire Elementary School will get its garden after all.
"The response — it's been beyond our wildest dreams!" Empire PTA president Becky Clegg said Wednesday with a catch in her voice.
PTA volunteers spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday filling a cement planter with rock, dirt and a grid of PVC irrigation pipe, racing to get it ready for the first day of school. Special education students would plant vegetables and flowers. Kindergartners would raise butterflies.
Sunday, volunteers found the project for which they'd spent months raising money ruined. Vandals stole or broke every waterline riser, snapping the PVC like twigs.
But Monday was a brand new day, starting with a $100 donation from a teacher. Then came an e-mail from an Empire alumni living in Colorado who keeps up with Empire news through modbee.com. He sent $250.
Clegg was inundated Monday with calls from donors and two TV news crews after an article in The Bee about vandals ruining the garden.
"It's been so positive. We've had so many businesses contact us," Clegg said.
Barbara Mireles of Modesto, grandmother of fifth-grader Rita Mireles, who discovered the damage, bought galvanized pipe, risers and sprinkler heads and gave them to the school. A Ceres plumbing firm offered to install them Saturday morning.
Clegg estimates $3,300 in donations have come in, with more promised.
The Modesto Nuts donated 100 tickets to sell at $5 apiece for this Sunday's game. An Empire donor who requested anonymity gave $2,500 toward installing a security system at the school.
"We're working with the maintenance department and talking with the district office to discuss putting up a system," Clegg said. A Ceres firm offered to help them set it up.
The PTA is abuzz with ideas for the school made possible by community support. Members are talking with a company about installing lighted signs with positive messages like "Respect yourself — respect your school." A dream of replacing a hardpan dirt plot by the school's entry with cement is moving forward with plans for benches, planters and a mosaic "E."
"It's been more than we can imagine — feedback from the community," Clegg said.
Bee staff writer Nanette Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.