Following robbery, a Charlotte-based ‘Giving Tree’ donates toys to learning center with same name

Giving Tree Child Development Center’s near-empty play area before a donation of toys.
Giving Tree Child Development Center’s near-empty play area before a donation of toys.

A Google Alert led a Dilworth-based realty company to replace thousands of dollars worth of stolen toys at a Lake Wylie day care center that bears the same name.

When summer campers arrived at Giving Tree Child Development Center Wednesday morning, one of the two play areas was sparse and nearly empty, save for a climbing wall that was too big and ungainly for robbers to steal. That changed just after 11:30 a.m. when the kids streamed out of their classrooms, slow and confused at first, to a waiting pile of toys, a mini roller-coaster and yet-to-be-assembled play set.

Bruce Bleiman, the founder of Giving Tree Realty, which donated the toys, tore Barbie dolls out of their boxes and handed them to waiting girls. “Wait, there’s a shoe,” he said to a girl, as a gray high heel fell from doll to ground.

Children who were unwilling to wait their turn on the new coaster climbed on it anyway and chased a foam soccer ball still encased in its plastic packaging.

Despite the similar names, the two businesses are not connected. A May 18 incident would change that. That’s when two men, according to surveillance video, robbed Giving Tree Child Development of four bins full of toys and a plastic tree playhouse. Kids discovered the theft the next morning and asked their teachers, “Where’s my tree?”

Lauri Barnette, one of the day care’s co-directors, said there were several “4-year-old detectives” looking for the “bad guys” at first. She said the center’s teachers have had to reach down into “their bag of tricks” and find creative ways to entertain their charges because of the lack of toys.

Around the same time, Giving Tree Realty received a Google Alert, which is an email notification that users can tailor around certain words and topics. Bleiman’s firm has an alert set up for the words “Giving Tree” to monitor what people say about the business.

That’s how the realty company learned of the robbery at its namesake learning center, located about 22 miles south of uptown Charlotte.

The robbery struck Bleiman and his wife, Brandy, close to home. They have a 3-year-old daughter, who unknowingly gave her roller coaster to the center.

“I don’t know what kind of people would steal from a day care,” Bleiman said.

The realty company, which is named for Shel Silverstein’s beloved children’s book “The Giving Tree,” has a history of giving to the community, he said. Bleiman said he gives each new employee a copy of Silverstein’s book and has them pick a charity to support. Every time a broker sells a house, the company donates to the respective charity.

After the robbery, Barnette and her fellow director, Sandy Darby, planned to replace the toys slowly, as budget allowed. They said they lost about $5,500 worth of equipment and the realty firm’s donation probably covers about $3,000 of that.

Barnette still doesn’t understand the motive behind the robbery: “There’s not any street value unless you’re going to run an in-home day care.”

Trent Faris, spokesman for the York County Sheriff’s Office, said the day care’s surveillance video has helped garner several tips. “We’ve investigated those tips, but no charges have been made yet,” he said.