A thief is suspected of making off Thursday with nearly $20,000 in gift cards purchased for a fundraiser by a Petaluma parent-teacher organization.

Heidi French, a parent in charge of selling gift cards to support Meadow School in Petaluma, had loaded the box of cards and a handful of checks into her car at 5:15 a.m., according to Waugh Superintendent Bob Cmelak. She locked the door, went briefly into the house and returned to find the door opened and the box gone, Cmelak said.

The parent group had already paid $19,889 for the cards, which were to be sold by volunteers to raise funds for student programs. The people whose checks were stolen were alerted Thursday, Cmelak said.

"A police report is filed," he said.