Crime & Courts

Charlotte kindergartners win pasta prize for raising money to fight cancer

Thieves might have stolen some of the money raised by Sterling Elementary School kindergartners to fight cancer, but they couldn’t take away a prize the young students earned.

The Olive Garden restaurant chain followed through on its promise Thursday and provided lunch for a kindergarten class whose fundraising efforts had been thwarted in a mid-January burglary.

Teacher Amanda Eisel’s class had raised the most money in the Pennies for Pasta campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, but at least part of that cash was reported stolen Jan. 15 when three men broke into the south Charlotte school.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police captured two suspects inside the school, but a third man was seen running from the building when officers arrived. School officials said that suspect ran off with some of the pennies and other loose change that Eisel’s class had raised.

“These kids were really into it, really into the cause,” Eisel said. “I’m glad someone appreciated the hard work they put in.”

Olive Garden, which had offered the pasta party to the fundraising champion, brought containers of spaghetti, ziti, macaroni salad, bread and salad to the school shortly before lunch on Thursday.

“We have a lot of good partnerships in the community,” said Sterling Principal Beth Wardy, who leads a school where nine of 10 students are classified as economically disadvantaged. “It’s so nice to see something like this happen.”

Police said the men who broke into the school also caused thousands of dollars worth of damage, and Wardy said the crime was painful for the school staff.

“Glass can be replaced, and the other damage can be fixed. But the theft seemed personal,” she said.

“It was like someone broke into your home,” said school community specialist Karen Cetoute.

Eisel said she didn’t tell her students that the money had been taken but said some of them knew.

“But now they’ve been rewarded for what they did,” she said Thursday. “I’m proud of them.”