DUNEDIN (FOX 13) - A Pinellas County teacher was met with an unpleasant surprise when she returned to school after Hurricane Irma. She said more than 80 of her classroom reading books had vanished.
She believes they were taken while people used Dunedin Highland Middle School as a shelter during the storm. But thanks to the power of social media, her shelves won't be bare for long.
If there was book written about Martha Hereford-Cothron, or as she's better known, Miss H.C., it would surely be a page-turner.
"I love reading. That's my passion. I've loved reading since I learned to read. I taught my sisters how to read," Cothron said. "I can't even pick a favorite book just because I love them all and I love the authors attached to them."
Her classroom was filled with novels and best-sellers, but after the school served as a shelter during Hurricane Irma, Cothron returned to a sight she wished was fiction.
"I look I'm like oh, where are my books? But, they left me a blanket," Cothron said, pointing to the gray blanket rolled up on the top shelf.
More than 80 books she'd spent years collecting, some signed by authors, were gone. So were six board games, including her students' favorite, Mancala. Without money to replace the entire library, she turned to Facebook, hoping friends could get her started.
In her post, she wrote, "I wasn't going to share this heart break but someone told me I should. It's #hideabookday but I don't think this is what they meant.... Why would people do this to children? Clearly they know I teach reading. EVERYONE KNOWS. My board even says "Welcome Reading Rockstars". I guess that meant nothing. It already takes all I have to get them to read a book at all. Let alone bring their reading scores up so they no longer need reading intervention. I don't have the money to replace all these books. It's taken me years to build this library. How did they even leave with all the items and no one noticed?"
The next chapter gets better. Pretty soon, people near and far began ordering books off of Cothron's Amazon wish list and sending words of encouragement.
"As the daughter of a librarian and avid reader I'm heartbroken that someone would steal books from your children," one person wrote.
"Hi Martha, sorry to hear of this loss many hugs from the Collins Elementary PTA Tampa, Florida," Cothron read aloud.
Even authors themselves chipped in. Veronica Roth tweeted to Cothron, "Oddly, I was just remarking to my husband that I need to clear out some of my extra books-- I'll send some that way!"
"I sat in my car and cried because I was overwhelmed with the generosity of people and the giving," Cothron said. "It's not for me, it's for my kids. So, when my kids came in and they were like, oh my God, this is for us? I'm like guys this is for y'all."
The deliveries just keep coming.
"We have more to read and we can just forget about the books that were stolen," said Joshua Skling, a seventh-grade student. "Thank you, because we needed those books."
A story that started with a mysterious book theft had a heartwarming plot twist, allowing this teacher and her students to read happily ever after.
"I didn't think anybody would take them but it's kind of like a blessing because they took the books, I hope they're reading them, that's my number one thing because they're amazing books, the ones they have," Cothron added. "I Just look at it as someone borrowed our books."
The Pinellas County School District is looking into what happened with the books. They said they'll make sure all of the items are returned or replaced. But, judging by the incredible outpouring of support, they'll likely not have to.