By ALISSA SCOTT
All summer, kids as young as 2 years old cracked open their piggy banks and dumped their pennies into a collections jug for animals at the Amsterdam Free Library. They had about $75 until Friday afternoon when it was stolen.
Nicole Hemsley, library director, said when the Montgomery County SPCA was burglarized, she thought it would be a good way to teach the children who visited the library about giving back to the community.
"Whatever we could collect, we were going to split it in half and give half to the SPCA and half to Fur Friends," Hemsley said. "Just to try to help out a bit, because we know a lot of these people, it comes out of their own pockets to take care of these animals."
The old water jug, covered in a hand-drawn sign that read "Collections for the SPCA and Fur Friends," decorated with pictures of animals, sat at the corner of the main desk on the children's floor in the library. By Friday morning, it was about a quarter filled.
When kids came in for the reading program, Hemsley said she would lower it to the floor so they could drop off their coins.
"$1 bills, $5 bills, quarters were in there," Hemsley said. "Bags of pennies. There were adults bringing in bags of pennies. It was kind of just like, once we got the ball rolling, everyone was on board with it."
Hemsley said she and the library staff searched the building from top to bottom looking for the large jug earlier this week. She suggested the person or people may have used the emergency escape to leave the building unnoticed, but she can't be sure. And, she said, she doesn't have any inkling about who might have taken it.
At first, Hemsley said she didn't want to contact police because she didn't think she had enough information to file a report. She decided to give the Amsterdam Police Department a call, however, and she said they would visit the library Friday afternoon.
The status of the investigation was unknown as of Friday afternoon.
The optimist in her, Hemsley said, hopes the thief was in dire need.
"I really hope it was somebody who really needed it desperately and not just, 'Oh hey, free money,'" she said.
Some children have started to ask about it, Katie Capel, the library's youth service specialist said, but Hemsley said she isn't sure how she's going to break the news to the kids.
"I don't know if I should give the parents the choice, you know pull them aside and say how do you want to handle this?" Hemsley said. "Do you want me to tell the kids or do you want me to leave it up to you, because some of these guys are little."
Because some of those who donated are so young, Hemsley said she hopes this doesn't keep them from being generous in the future.
"I hate to tell them," Hemsley said. "But, this is the reality of life, so I think we're going to have to let them know. I think we'll just let them know that -- we'll say -- I don't know. I don't know how we're going to tell them. Honestly. I don't know how I'm going to word it."
Capel said donating their change was really important to the children.
"It gave them a special sense of pride in the community," Capel said. "I'm really just upset about it. It's really bothering me. Stealing anything is disgusting and has no place in society, but this was for the kids. It was for the kids."
"These were kids who don't have a lot of things," Nick Lazarou, the library's digital literacy coordinator, added. "They were giving."
The young donors even gave away money they earned by reading, Hemsley said. For every book they read, they could earn one penny to keep or donate for the animals. Every penny, she said, was tossed in the jug.
Hemsley said, in all, this will be a life lesson for the children. Amsterdam Police Department spokesman Det. Lt. Kurt Conroy said police will be investigating the case.
Anyone interested in providing monetary donations to the Amsterdam Library can visit its website at amsterdamlibrary.com and click the donations tab. To donate to the SPCA, checks can be made payable to the MCSPCA and mailed to P.O. Box 484, Amsterdam, N.Y., 12O1O.