The Rancho Cotate High School music program was inundated with donations due to an unlikely source this week. After a woman from Rohnert Park purchased baked goods at the high school music department’s bake sale in front of the Cotati Oliver’s Market with a fake $100 bill, news traveled like wildfire across several media outlets and social media. Donations from around the bay area and even beyond have been pouring in, as concerned citizens empathized with the students.
“There has been a huge community response with donations from all over. We got some donations from Southern California, and I got a call from a music program in Elk Grove that wants to give a donation,” said Tim Decker, Rancho Cotate High School’s band director.
Oliver’s video surveillance cameras captured the woman, who the Cotati police have identified as Michelle Marie Kruse, 41, inside the market abandoning her shopping cart without purchasing anything. Upon leaving she stopped at the bake sale table, purchased $20 worth of baked goods and handed the students a $100 bill. They gave her $80 in change.
Fortunately, one of the students, Evan Crow, had been trained to look for several key features in a $100 bill due to his job at Straw Hat Pizza in Rohnert Park and quickly realized it was a fake. However, when the students attempted to alert the woman, she jumped into her car, an older model Honda Accord, and sped away.
Oliver’s Market gave the students the $80 they lost, but that was just the beginning. Bella Rosa Coffee Company donated $300 the next day, and the Cotati Police Department has been fielding numerous calls as others have called in wanting to donate to the students’ cause.
It will be several weeks, however, until the music department will realize the financial effects of the outpouring of support since the post office is holding their mail until school starts.
“The response from the community and media has been so overwhelming,” said Decker. So far, they have seen coverage on all the major television news stations, local newspapers, the Sacramento Bee, and all over Facebook.
The money from the bake sale was meant for various items the music department needs, from sheet music, to instrument repairs, to travel expenses and helping fund trips.
They hope to be able to attend special events and competitions such as performing at Carnegie Hall in New York, which some members of the group attended three years ago, as well as Disneyland.
The group is so dedicated, the students themselves decided to get together over the summer, even when school is not in session, to organize bake sale fundraisers.
“The students are so much like a family,” said Lou Ann Gomez, a parent. “They like to see each other during the summer too.”
The band decided to hold another bake sale at Oliver’s Market a few days after the incident, almost as a symbol of perseverance and resilience.
“The band is like our home and if someone messed with our home, we’re going to show that we are going to unite and not let it effect us,” said Angelina Johns, one of the students.
“It is unfortunate that it happened but it made us stronger,” said Crow.
On July 16 Cotati Police officers, with the assistance of the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety officers, located Kruse inside of a garage at her residence in Rohnert Park where she was taken into custody.
Apparently Kruse has extensive criminal history in regards to forgery, possession and passing of counterfeit currency. The amount of heroin and methamphetamine drugs and paraphernalia found on scene added to her existing charges and she was booked into Sonoma County Jail.
“Kids make an easier target,” said Decker, “but this will make people more aware.”