MIDDLETOWN–Some people really are as cuddly as a cactus during the Christmas season, and Saturday’s incident outside the ShopRite supermarket on Route 211 proves the point, according to Major Mary Moore.
A foul grinch struck, stealing Christmas for at least three families on the list to be helped this year by the charitable ministry.
Moore, the corps officer and pastor at the Middletown Salvation Army, estimates that close to $600 was stuffed inside the familiar red kettle–enough to provide food baskets, meat vouchers, toys, hats and gloves for each of the families in need.
The thief not only took the pot of cash at around 6:15 p.m., but the $150 tripod it was chained to.
“We hope that just like at the end of ‘The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,’ where his heart grew three sizes too big, that this will grow the hearts of those who donate to us,” she said. “We provide not only help at Christmastime, but throughout the year with food, clothes, utility and rental assistance, and the need right now is great.”
Moore said the thief struck while the bell-ringer was on his break toward the end of his eight-hour shift. A passerby who witnessed the incident began yelling and alerted the worker.
“He was still close enough to see the kettle and saw what was happening and tried to give chase, but he couldn’t stop him and called 911 right away,” she said.
“In the nine years that we’ve been locking kettles down, we’ve never had a problem before. We’ve been standing at that grocery store for decades, and we’ve never had any problems of this type before.”
Wallkill town police describe the suspect as a 6-foot-tall white male with a heavy build. They said he was wearing a gray hood and mask at the time of the heist. Following the incident, he fled east on state Route 211.
The Middletown corps has a goal this year of $125,000, which will help upwards of 300 families, including 1,200 children for Christmas.
Not only does the corps help all of central Orange County, but communities throughout Sullivan County, where the need is striking, Moore said.
So far, the kettle campaign, the Army’s primary fundraiser of the year, has raised less than $40,000, but she is hopeful that shoppers will give generously in the coming weeks.
Just in case would-be donors are concerned that the thief might fraudulently solicit donations using the kettle he stole, Moore reminds donors that Salvation Army bell-ringers wear aprons and ski caps bearing the ministry’s familiar shield.
“We have given all our workers photo IDs,” Moore added. “If anyone is concerned, they should call The Salvation Army office, and we can confirm if that person is one of our workers. If you see someone in a place we’ve never been before, that should also raise suspicion.”
Moore, meanwhile, continues to believe that God will replenish what was taken and multiply it. She is encouraging anyone who wants to send in a donation to do so at The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 759, Middletown, N.Y. 10940.
“What Satan meant for evil, God can turn around for good. Our stress level went through the roof, and we were biting our fingernails, but God always comes through,” she said.
Police are asking anyone with information to contact them at (845) 692-6757.