The Tale Of 3 Stolen Trees And A Community In Bloom

After three fruit trees were stolen from a Boise cathedral's orchard, the community donated so many trees that the orchard doubled in size. Joe Prin, the cathedral's superintendent, tells the story.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, the story of three stolen fruit trees and how they sprouted a community movement. It all starts in a vacant lot next to the Cathedral of the Rockies. It's a Methodist church in Boise, Idaho. Church leaders decided to transform the land into an urban fruit orchard. Last week the church's building superintendent, Joe Prin, went to a nursery and picked up 22 trees to plant. They included four trees bought by a family whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. They were to be planted as a memorial to her.

Joe Prin brought the trees back to the church parking lot - and that's where we pick up with Mr. Prin, who joins us from Boise State Public Radio. And Mr. Prin, you dropped those trees off last Wednesday. I gather you thought they were pretty safe where you left them, in that parking lot. What happened?

JOE PRIN: Well, Melissa, I just unloaded them from the truck, and we stacked them in a parking space there, in the lot, that was kind of hidden away. I thought, oh, no problem here. We don't have a lot of crime around here. And when I came back in the next morning, the stack looked a little smaller than what it should; and counted the numbers up, and three of them were gone.

BLOCK: And you realized, well, we just have three fewer to plant. How did word get out that those trees had been stolen?

PRIN: So I filed a police report, and then I called one of our local TV stations that had done a story early in the life of this orchard and let them know what was going on. And they took and ran with that on the evening news and shortly after that, my phone started ringing.

BLOCK: Hmm, who was calling?

PRIN: Well, people that wanted to replace the trees that were stolen. The first call that I got was from the greenhouse that originally supplied them to us. And they said well, we'd like to replace those, and we do have the exact replacements for you. And at that point, I was made whole. But it didn't stop coming.

BLOCK: So what happened after that?

PRIN: Well, more people continued to call. People were dropping by donations - goes back to that biblical principle, kind of; you get back 10 times more than you give. Well, in this case, we got just about exactly 10 times back what was taken from us.

BLOCK: Well, tell me how the orchard looks now.

PRIN: Well, right now, it's gone from a knee-deep weed patch full of puncture vine and debris that has just been scattered there into a beautifully laid out and designed grouping of cells. The trees are there. They're spread out through the whole property. The walking paths are in place. Hundreds of volunteers have been there picking out rocks and sticks, and raking, and just making it look really pretty.

BLOCK: I wonder, Mr. Prin, in the midst of all this, if you were thinking that the thieves who stole those three trees might have been shamed into bringing them back under cover of night.

PRIN: Well, being part of the church, you know, we had to put that out of our thoughts and forgive them, and hope that their hearts would be turned and they'd be returned. They haven't been, but I can't say that I'm not happy about the outcome.

BLOCK: What were you thinking as people in the community were coming up and handing you those checks and the cash?

PRIN: Well, I was quite humbled by it, and it was also incredibly reassuring because I didn't know where the second half of this project was coming from. But now, this looks good. We're going to have this thing completed by fall, and hope to have a big celebration kickoff in September.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Prin, best of luck to you, and thanks for talking with us.

PRIN: You bet, Melissa. Thank you for the opportunity.

BLOCK: Joe Prin is the building superintendent for the Cathedral of the Rockies in Boise, Idaho. He's overseeing the first fruits orchard, next to the church.

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