Thanks to an outpouring of support from the community and a little clever detective work, a potentially bad story turned good late last week after three local students had their instruments stolen from St. Joseph the Worker Church.
According to a representative for the St. Joseph the Worker school, students in their choir were practicing Thursday for the adjoining church’s 125th anniversary celebration that was held this past weekend. The students broke for lunch around noon and left their instruments in the choir area at the front of the church. When they came back they found that three instruments—a trumpet, saxophone and flute—were missing. After a frenzied search to make sure no one had misplaced the instruments, the students realized that someone had come into the church and stolen them.
“My mom was speechless,” said Devante Dubose, a sixth grader who lost his trumpet. Dubose had just gotten the trumpet for Christmas and had never played it in a performance.
“It was devastating,” said Melissa Angulo, a fifth grader who lost her flute. “We had really been working hard on the mass.”
Natalie Tovani-Walchuk, the principal at St. Joseph the Worker school said they immediately contacted the police and that night the story aired on a local TV station’s nightly news broadcast.
According to Tovani-Walchuk, police from the city of Alameda also picked up a homeless man that same night for a different warrant and found a saxophone and trumpet in his possessions. After the shift change on Friday morning, an officer who had seen the news broadcast the night before saw the instruments and immediately made the connection.
The police contacted the school after a search of the vagrant’s possessions located the flute buried at the bottom of a trash bag. While both the flute and the sax had only minor damages, the trumpet was badly beaten up.
In the meantime the school had rented instruments so the students could practice before mass. School officials were also worrying about how to reimburse the students for damages because the instruments were not covered under the school’s insurance.
Come Friday by the beginning of school, however, there was no need to worry and all the rented instruments were returned. After seeing the news broadcast that night, people from around the Bay Area started contacting the school to send donations. People gave instruments and money, and by the end of the day the school had four flutes, one trumpet, one guitar, a promised saxophone and around $1,000.
Even though the flute and saxophone were usable, and there was no immediate need for a guitar, people said they felt obligated to contribute.
One of the women who contributed had her flute stolen as a child but was too poor to buy a new one. When she got older she bought a flute because she could. She immediately identified with the students and decided to donate the flute, shipping it by courier so it got there that same day.
One man got on BART in San Francisco, rode across the bay, walked to St. Joseph’s, donated an instrument, got back on the BART, and disappeared.
“I think people really cared about our school,” said Dubose, who cheerfully tried out his new trumpet on Friday afternoon. “When they gave me the trumpet I felt like they really cared about me.”
The two other students cleaned their instruments using disinfectant, and were right back at it Friday afternoon.
All the extra instruments, according to Tovani-Walchuk, are still a blessing even though they weren’t immediately needed, because students who can’t afford their own instruments will now have something to play. The school does not have the money to provide all the band students with instruments. Tovani-Walchuk also said the money donated will go directly to the school’s music program.
“It gives me hope in the world,” she said. “It’s amazing what people can do in this world [even though] there is all this yukkiness.”
Tovani-Walchuk said the school is not pressing charges but the District Attorney will issue a stay-away order to the alleged thief. The church, which is always open so people can use it as a sanctuary and place to pray, will remain open. But, she said, the next time students practice they’ll make sure to take their instruments with them if they go on break.