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The Northmont High School community was shocked this week by a disheartening theft, but it turned the situation into a heartwarming holiday story.

Students in teacher Melissa McMonigle’s English class were surprised to see the upbeat teacher in tears Wednesday. They soon learned that $164 of the $194 that had been donated to help a needy family had been stolen from her desk between class periods.

“I was so sad and so disheartened,” McMonigle said. “And my students were angry when they found out.”

Several classrooms were raising money for needy families, as part of a “neighbors helping neighbors” community program that is now run through the local FISH Pantry.

“I was completely shocked that somebody would steal money for needy families,” said Northmont junior Christian Myers. “But I knew that Northmont would come together and help out.”

The Christmas spirit was within their grasp, and many parts of the community stepped up hand-in-hand.

“Within a 24-hour period, teachers started handing me money in the parking lot,” McMonigle said. “Students who aren’t even (in my classes) started handing me money the hallways. There were parents who came into the main office and asked if they could give money to Miss McMonigle for the needy family. It was happening all day long.”

Northmont Superintendent Tony Thomas said Friday that the $164 lost has been more than replaced by nearly $800 in new donations.

“I’m a big believer that when kids are given a chance to serve or do good deeds for others, they rise up. They love doing that,” Thomas said. “It just becomes part of the culture, and how you respond to negative actions.”

Myers said after the initial shock of the theft, students starting texting, encouraging each other to bring in $10 or $20 if they could. One student brought in $200.

“These kids are incredible. I can’t say enough about them,” a teary McMonigle said. “They have just shown that their hearts are so big.”

Northmont spokeswoman Jenny Wood said the school district is investigating to find out who stole the money, saying they’re taking the theft issue very seriously.

McMonigle was glad to have the replacement money and did the shopping for the class’ adopted family (that includes two kids) on Thursday night. Many of the presents that Northmont classes bought were coats and socks and shoes, to go along with some toys dressed with ribbons and tags.

As with most Christmas stories, Northmont junior Maddie White said there was a message to take away from the community’s response. “Even if you think you have it bad, there are probably people who have it worse,” White said. “We should try to help them and reach out to them in any way we can.”