AUBURN, Maine — Here it is only August and the Grinch has already made an appearance in the Twin Cities.
A man posing as a United Way worker this week made off with a collection of school supplies earmarked for needy families.
It happened on Monday. As part of a yearly campaign, the United Way had been collecting backpacks with the help of a variety of sources, including L.L. Bean, the Auburn-Lewiston Rotary and the Walmart distribution center.
By the start of the week, 550 backpacks had been collected and were just waiting for loot — pencils, notebooks, crayons, etc. — to fill them.
“For some families, these are desperate times,” Joleen Bedard, executive director at the United Way, said. “The kids really need to have these tools. Kids want to have nice backpacks because all their friends do.”
At Big Lots in Auburn, customers have been given the opportunity to purchase school supplies and donate them to the cause. Several did. On Friday, those supplies were to be stuffed into the backpacks and distributed to families around Androscoggin County.
Enter Scrooge. On Monday, the unidentified man went to Big Lots and told workers there he was a volunteer with the United Way.
“He went over in a black SUV and picked up everything,” Bedard said.
All of the donated items were taken. It was not known exactly how much was stolen, but it was believed to be enough to fill a good number of the backpacks. Instead, the United Way is scrambling, hoping to come up with enough supplies to fill the bags on Friday.
According to Bedard, there will be no halt in the plan in spite of the setback.
“It’s going to be a success either way,” she said. “Any support is certainly appreciated.”
Anyone who wants to donate supplies for the backpacks can deliver them to the United Way offices at 66 Ash St. in Lewiston, across from the Post Office.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the thief remained at large.
Bedard said no one blames the people of Big Lots for having fallen victim to an impostor.
“They have been huge supporters and partners,” Bedard said of the store. “They have done a tremendous job.”