WATERVILLE — Onions have been piling up in Mary Dunn’s fifth grade classroom, all donated after about 100 onions were stolen last week from her students’ school garden and news stories about it circulated across the country.

More than 200 pounds of onions have arrived at Albert S. Hall School from farms in Unity and Liberty, and more are expected from Texas and New York.

“Here’s what we’ve gotten so far,” Dunn said Wednesday, motioning to bags of onions on her classroom floor. “It’s been wonderful, and I’m meeting a guy on the Interstate Saturday morning because he’s moving from Texas to Maine, and he’s got an abundance of onions in his garden and he’s going to bring them to give to me.”

Dunn’s students had planned to donate half the onions to the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter and half to the school kitchen to be used in meals served in the cafeteria. They learn about gardening and healthful eating all year long, and Dunn uses the garden vegetables in her math, science and literature curriculum.

She said Sara Trunzo, director of Veggies for All, a farm at Unity College, brought in 100 onions Wednesday.

“They grow produce to donate to local food pantries and for the college cafeteria, so when she saw we were donating the onions for the same reason, she connected,” Dunn said. “She brought them in this morning.”


John Dean, of Liberty, contributed onions after reading a column about the theft in Monday’s Morning Sentinel, she said.

“When he read the article, he called and said he’d like to donate onions,” Dunn said. “He came in with these two 50-pound sacks of onions — shallots and Scottish onions and another kind. He said, ‘The reason I’m doing this is, when I read about it, I felt sad for you that this happened, but I also felt sad for the person who took them — he doesn’t know any better.’ We were speechless. I’m still thinking about it — someone who doesn’t know any better — and I feel a little more compassion for him than I was feeling before.”

More onions will be sent to the school from New York, according to Dunn.

“Somebody just called from New York saying they have onions in the garden, and they’re going to box them up and send them. That’s going to cost a fortune.”

A teacher’s aide at Hall School, Tuesday Masse, was the first to donate, contributing onions she raised in her garden, Dunn said.

Dunn said such kindness has prompted classroom discussions about people who make mistakes. Maybe the person who stole the onions is not a bad person, but one who made a mistake, she said.


“Maybe he’s desperate — I don’t know,” Dunn said. “We don’t know his history. We don’t know what happened to make him take them. My mother used to say, ‘There are two sides to every pancake,’ so this is our story, but there’s another story out there — whomever took them.”

Fifth-grader Hannah Hall, 10, said she was sad and shocked when she and her classmates discovered the onions were gone last week, and she hoped those responsible would bring them back.

On Wednesday, Hall was bubbling with excitement and talking about Dean, the donor from Liberty, and Trunzo, of Maine Farmland Trust, who walked into the classroom with bags of onions.

“Everybody was happy,” Hall said. “Everybody gasped when he walked in. Everybody gasped when she walked in.”

Ebba Heaton-Jones, 10, giggled with excitement about the bags of onions on the floor next to her.

“I mean, look at that!” she said. “We got 210 onions here and we’re getting another 100 from Texas and 100 from New York. We’re getting more than we planted. It’s not tomatoes, it’s not pizza, it’s not apples — it’s onions. I mean, who would donate onions? Who would steal onions?”


As she spoke, Gerald York Jr., a retired veteran music teacher who now works as a substitute teacher, played part of a song on a recorder that he is writing about the theft of the school onions. Earlier, York sang aloud a few verses of the song:

“Onions, onions, where have you gone?

After all the work we have done

Someone came and took them away

Now we have no onions today.”

Dunn said the onion has become a symbol for members of the school community coming together and giving.


“So, this is the lesson the kids are learning,” she said. “It renews their belief in human nature, which is what disasters do. Not that disasters are good, but when something goes wrong and you hang in there, something good comes of it.”

The Hall school onion story drew national attention after being picked up by ABC News, USA Today, the Miami Herald and other outlets, and the school has been getting calls from as far away as Virginia and South Carolina, according to Dunn.

School Principal Barbara Jordan said the saga is bringing out the best in people.

“We so appreciate their good wishes,” she said.

Now that the school’s onion supply is much larger than the amount that was stolen, Dunn and the students plan to give them to not only the homeless shelter and school kitchen, but also to food banks and soup kitchens.

“We’re divvying it all up,” Dunn said, smiling.

Amy Calder — 861-9247


Twitter: @AmyCalder17

Comments are no longer available on this story