Crime & Courts

Wichita Toys for Tots warehouse pillaged

For the 22 years the Rev. Mike Stockwell has been helping organize and distribute toys to the poor and needy, he's never seen anything like what greeted him Sunday morning.

Sometime between 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday, thieves broke into the warehouse of the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots and took more than 1,000 toys.

They apparently picked a lock on the barrier gate, threw open an overhead door and ransacked box after box meticulously packed and readied for distribution.

What gifts they didn't take they threw on the floor — a small stuffed gray kitten and a white bear lay in a small toy pile surrounded by empty boxes.

"I've seen a lot, but this is about as low as you get," said Stockwell, committee chairman for the Wichita area 2009 Toys for Tots program.

With each gift ranging in price from $10 to $20, the loss is substantial, Stockwell said.

Most of the items taken were items for teenagers — MP3 players and makeup.

"You can sell those items on the street," he said. "I'm worried about it because we don't get enough for teenage kids. Everybody buys for the 3-to-5 year olds but they don't buy for the teenagers and the newborns."

People can donate gifts at the Marine Corps donation boxes in area Wal-Marts or at Davis Moore Automotive at 6205 E Kellogg. To make cash donations, call Stockwell at 316-300-0204.

Wichita police investigated the burglary Sunday.

"We have a lab on the scene looking for any physical evidence," said police spokesman Sgt. Bart Brunscheen.

"When the officer came out, the chaplain reported a front gate, which had been left locked and closed, was found open this morning,"

Brunscheen said. "The lock hadn't been cut. We don't know if somebody may have picked it — they usually cut them."

Last month, someone broke into a shed used by the nonprofit alcohol and drug treatment agency Parallax Program and took numerous wrapped Christmas presents meant for the children of adults undergoing treatment.

Those gifts had been collected by Toys for Tots and donated to the nonprofit organization.

"Everything we gave them was wiped out," Stockwell said. "This year, it's because of the economy. It's just the way it is....

"People don't have to steal from us. They can just come and ask. We'll help them. We don't turn anybody away. To take from us ... is a bad deal."

With the burglary happening just five days before the organization's donation season ends, Stockwell said all he can do is appeal to the people of Wichita.

"There is nothing we can do," he said. "We will continue to raise more toys — collect up to the 17th and do the best we can. That's all we can do."

As Stockwell stood in the parking lot Sunday — waiting as the police completed their investigation, an elderly man drove up to the warehouse site and called out to Stockwell.

"You still accepting gifts?"

Stockwell acknowledged he was.

A new toy bulldozer and tool set were thrust into his arms.

"That was nice," he said, carrying the boxes into the building.

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