HOULTON, Maine — Officials at The Salvation Army in Houlton were experiencing holiday heartbreak Thursday after discovering that some of the toys and gifts donated for area children had been stolen.
Maj. Hermas Pearl said Thursday that she discovered the theft Wednesday evening, but she still is working to determine how much and what was stolen and is scrambling to replace items.
The Salvation Army provides multiple services for local residents throughout the year, including fuel and clothing assistance, and help at Christmas. That help extends to soliciting donated gifts to provide to area children who otherwise might wake up to few or no gifts under the tree.
Each year, the Houlton center sets up trees at a number of stores that are decorated with paper angels. The angels list the age and sex of the child and list an item that the child wants for Christmas. Donors can take a paper angel, buy the gift and drop it off at The Salvation Army.
Pearl said that the gifts were being collected and stored in a room at the Court Street location.
Sometime this week, she said, an unknown person or persons walked into the room and went through some of the bags of gifts, picking out some of the most expensive items and walking out with them.
“I started looking through the gifts and realized that some of the items that I had remembered seeing earlier in the week were no longer there,” Pearl said Thursday. “I started looking everywhere and then noticed that more and more gifts were missing. I noticed it Wednesday and called the Houlton Police Department, but they could have been taken the day before.”
Pearl said she provided police with a list of everyone who was in the building, but she said it is hard to remember everyone because it is a high-traffic location.
“Volunteers are coming in and out and people are coming in to ask for assistance,” she said. “I have also been in and out, collecting the gifts and collecting the red kettles that we put out every holiday season to solicit donations. There is usually always someone here, though.”
Houlton police Officer Stewart Kennedy confirmed early Thursday evening that an investigation is under way, and that he has two “persons of interest” in the case.
“They may have some more information about this crime, and I also have some evidence,” he said. “I can’t release their names or what evidence I have.”
There was no sign of forced entry to the building, he added.
Kennedy said that the items may have been taken over a couple of days this week.
“This is very sad,” he said. “The gifts that were taken were going to be given to specific kids who will no longer get them.”
According to Pearl, some of the items that were taken include jewelry, toiletries, cosmetic bags and cosmetics, dolls and video games.
She said Thursday that she had carefully gone through only about 10 of the 30 or so bags of gifts so far.
“I am still trying to determine what is missing and the value of everything taken,” she said. “I feel somewhat responsible. I guess I should have been more vigilant about protecting the gifts, but you trust people. You don’t think something like this could happen, particularly now.”
Pearl said that she also is scrambling to see what she can do to replace items.
“I feel so bad,” she said. “Some of the children who requested certain gifts aren’t going to get them now.”
Pearl said it is not too late to donate gifts. Many of the items taken were for teens age 14 and older. To donate items, drop them off at 12 Court St. in Houlton or call 532-2322.
Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call the Houlton Police Department at 532-2287.