Two volunteers who apparently turned out to be grinches are accused of stealing some $5,000 worth of toys from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots storage area at First Faith Development Corp. in Akron.

Akron police were investigating the theft at 790 Easter Ave. that happened Monday.

The theft occurred days before toys are to be distributed at the Easter Avenue building.

Traci Higginbottom-Williams, who is director of the First Faith Development Corp. and works with the local Toys for Tots program, said she knows the suspects. She said she went to high school with one of them, a man, and that another suspect, a woman, was a customer at a business she used to run. 

"It's very heartless, cruel and unkind," she said.

The organization begins collecting toys in January each year to distribute during the holidays.

But, she said, "We're going to make sure every kid gets something." 

It's easy to make out people — but not faces — on fuzzy surveillance video, coming and going dozens of times from the back entrance of the gym at the building that houses First Faith Development Corp., as well as First Apostolic Faith Church. First Faith Development is an outreach program of the church.

Over a seven-hour span, the recording shows the thieves carrying the toys in boxes or wrapped in a tarp, Higginbottom-Williams said, explaining that the "volunteers" showed up in the afternoon and sneaked toys out all evening and into the night, loading them into waiting vehicles.

She said there were four or five people involved in the operation, the two volunteers working inside and two or three others outside.

U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Phillip Greer, who coordinates the local Toys for Tots campaign, said the thieves created a barrier of boxes to hide themselves from view of others in the gym turned warehouse.

They took bikes, kitchen playsets and Barbie houses that retail for $100 or more, and other toys.

Higginbottom-Williams said this was the first year that she put a call out for volunteers, posting a plea on Facebook. With she and the Marines setting a goal of collecting enough toys to provide Christmas for some 15,000 local children, she wanted more help sorting and bagging up the donations for distribution. The toys collected throughout the county arrive at the Easter Avenue building in large Toys for Tots collection boxes.

Last year, Toys for Tots distributed more than 59,000 toys to more than 11,000 Summit County children.

Traditionally, Higginbottom-Williams said, a small group of staff members gets the toys ready for distribution.

“We wouldn’t be able to reach this many people without them [those at First Faith Development Corp.]," Greer said.

An Akron police report lists two suspects, one man and woman.

The police report says the suspects were seen taking at least $1,000 worth of toys from the building. Higginbottom-Williams said she estimates the loss at $5,000 or more.

Police on Wednesday were looking into Facebook posts showing some of the toys for sale, she said.

Lt. Rick Edwards, Akron police spokesman, said late Wednesday afternoon that the investigation was continuing and no arrests had been made.

He said members of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 plan to contribute seven large boxes of toys to the program Thursday. The lodge received the toys from the Ohio FOP.

Greer, the staff sergeant, said, “We’re working tirelessly to ensure we can help as many children as possible — at or around 15,000 children this year. We’re not going to let some unscrupulous people stop us from helping."

Early Wednesday evening, the city of Akron tweeted out word that it had received a $5,000 donation from eBay to help replace the stolen toys. The Twitter post included a photo of Mayor Dan Horrigan holding up a "Thank you, eBay!" card.

Greer said that anyone wishing to donate toys in person can do so by dropping them off at the Easter Avenue building from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Toys are to be distributed Saturday at the Easter Avenue building to about 700 families. Most of the other organizations and churches have already received toys for distribution. 

Donations of money can be made by going to https://akron-oh.toysfortots.org.

Greer said that Toys for Tots organizers like to give three toys to each child, one item worth about $20 to $30 and two smaller items, as well as a book. He said more books are needed.

Toy collection boxes are in the process of being picked up by the Marines.

 

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or Facebook.