Members of the Vineland High School Camping Club hold up a sign thanking members of a camping Web site for donating money and new coolers after the club's old one was stolen.

VHS Camping Club
Touched by Donation

Theft of cooler prompts response from Internet camping community

September 27,2007 -- by Deborah M. Marko

VINELAND -- As it stands, it's the two new Vineland High School Camping Club coolers that will be racking up the most mileage.

After all, they're traveling cross-country.

The school's two dozen camping club members only made it as far as Pittsgrove.

The teens spent the May 14-16 weekend at Parvin State Park prepared to rough it. But things got really tough when a thief stole their cooler.

When the students awoke Saturday morning, they discovered the heist of their burgers, hot dogs and chicken.

Fortunately, the campsite was just a few miles from the Eatmor food market and they were able to restock.

But the incident infuriated club co-adviser Jennie Martorano, who vented on the message forum of PopUp Explorer, a Web site dedicated to camping issues.

Outdoor enthusiasts were sympathetic and wanted to help. Then someone harnessed their goodwill by suggesting Web site members chip in a buck to help replace the stolen cooler. Soon the message board was filled with count-me-ins.

The theft, said Web site operator Dean Babb, "touched many of the members and it sparked conversations."

The site, with 3,400 members, enjoys a small-community feel despite its far-reaching membership.

"We felt if we could do something good, it would offset the negative," Babb said.

Babb began collecting the contributions that poured in from all over the United States and Canada. Soon, it amounted to $233. The check arrived at the high school a few days ago, along with the promise of two new coolers that Babb is sending from his store in Vancouver, Wash.

The money was an unexpected gesture.

And the camping club members were extremely grateful. They posted a photo of themselves holding up a big "thank you" sign on the PopUp Explorer Web site.

The donations will help students prepare for their June trip to Maine, Martorano said.

They might want to drop Babb a postcard, because it's one of only a handful of states where he hasn't yet pitched a tent.

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