ST. PETERSBURG — The theft of gardening equipment from a community garden in a modest city neighborhood has elicited sympathy and numerous offers of help.
"I am a gardener, so that touched me," said Karen Goodrich. "I empathized with them losing their tools like that. I just wanted to help in some way."
The loss occurred a little over a week ago, when thieves pried open a shed at 2519 Third Ave. S and made off with two ground tillers, a lawn trimmer and a push mower.
"I went down this morning to Home Depot and Lowe's trying to price them to replace them and right quick, two pieces of equipment cost $612," Lurlis Simmons, 82, president of the Palmetto Park Neighborhood Association, said late last week.
"I said, my Lord. They just took the more expensive stuff."
Police have no leads.
The neighborhood holds memories for Pinellas School Board member Rene Flowers, who lived there until the early 1990s.
"My roots in the neighborhood go way back," said Flowers, who was a St. Petersburg City Council member when the community started the garden on a vacant city-owned lot in 2001.
Flowers said she wanted to help as soon as she learned of the theft and approached several other politicians to do the same. Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch immediately agreed.
"We just want to lend a hand and help them get back on their feet," Welch said.
Margaret Christian, who moved from West Virginia a few years ago, called to offer a push mower that she has been unable to use on "tough Florida grass."
Others, like Wayne Bowen, a retired pharmacist who contacted the Tampa Bay Times about helping, said they admired the gardeners' community spirit.
"I was just impressed with how much time they spent growing the vegetables and giving them away, just the passion for what they are doing," Bob Tatangelo said. "I think something that worthy and of that much value needs to continue."
The small group of older residents who have held the neighborhood association and its community garden together are grateful.
"It was kind of shocking that people would respond to something that happened with us. It makes you feel good again," said Christella Wilson, the neighborhood association's secretary.
Retired truck driver Moses Manning, 73, discovered the theft. He and neighbor Benjamin King, 58, are devout gardeners at the 50- by 127-foot residential lot the neighborhood leases from the city for a nominal fee. He and King were about to prepare for the fall planting of produce including collard greens, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes and turnips when the tools disappeared, he said.
Manning said he and King are anxious "to get something growing so we have something to pass out" to elderly neighbors.
Longtime St. Petersburg resident Scott Stewart said he will provide a gift card to let the Palmetto Park gardeners know "there are enough people around who want to help them to get back on their feet."
"It's amazing how people reach out to help you," Simmons said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.