LEWISTON — The Grinch may have made off with two bikes — Austin and Kelsey Westleigh’s Christmas presents — but in doing so, he caused an outpouring of generosity from Maine to Washington, D.C.
The day after Austin, 13, and Kelsey, 10, received new bikes for Christmas, they were stolen from in front of their Hogan Road home.
The kids put up signs in front of their house asking whoever had taken the bikes to please return them.
Their mother, Vicky Westleigh, said, “(Austin) is like, ‘I don’t believe people do this stuff on Christmas,’ but they do — they don’t think about kids.”
Almost as soon as the Sun Journal story appeared Monday morning, the public response was overwhelming. Calls and emails came in to the newsroom, each asking if they could help purchase new bikes.
From as near as the Sun Journal offices to North Conway, N.H., and Washington D.C., everyone wanted to restore the Westleigh’s Christmas.
Vicky Westleigh received only one of the many emails editors and a reporter were receiving, but she was hesitant to take the kind stranger up on their offer.
“I said, ‘Let’s wait a couple of days and see if we can get our bikes back,'” Westleigh said, explaining that it was a big expense for her and she didn’t want to push that onto someone else.
Westleigh, who is raising her children alone after the passing of her husband a few years ago, explained that after having to give up her nursing career because of medical issues, saving for the bikes was a huge undertaking.
“It bothered me because I made the sacrifice for them, and when I make a sacrifice, the kids make a sacrifice, too,” Westleigh said. To make matters worse, the family lost their cat, which was struck by a car on Christmas Day — Austin Westleigh’s birthday.
Still, messages of support kept rolling in from places like the Dempsey Center, Guyot Designs, Apex Luxury Rentals, the Lewiston Firefighters Association and concerned citizens from Boston and Washington D.C., all offering to replace the stolen bikes.
Television crews descended upon the Westleigh home, and while cameras were rolling, an anonymous woman arrived with brand new bikes.
Overwhelmed with the amount of generosity her story inspired, Westleigh said, “It puts you back to thinking that people are human again.”
If the theft had taught the Westleighs a hard lesson about the callous actions of some individuals who would steal children’s Christmas presents, the subsequent response taught them the majority of the community cares.
While relieved that her children’s Christmas had not been entirely tarnished, Westleigh still can’t understand the motives for the theft.
“I’m trying to bring my kids up so that they don’t steal. You don’t do things that are wrong and that will hurt other people’s feelings,” she said.
Having had an opportunity to take their new bikes out for a test spin, Westleigh said, “My son just rode it a few minutes ago. I said, ‘Where did you put it?’ He said, ‘In the garage.'”
And to the many, many individuals and organizations that offered the Westleigh’s help, “Thank you for helping us to believe that good things do happen,” she said.
A new sign Austin and Kelsey put up outside their home reads, “Whoever brought us new bikes, thank you so much — we love them a lot!”