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Thefts Hit Charities Hard During Holidays

Thieves are targeting groups that collect toys or raise money for the needy this holiday season - fallout from the recession, some organizers say - but communities are stepping up to replenish the lost donations.

After more than 1,000 toys were taken last weekend from a Toys for Tots warehouse in Wichita, the group was deluged with new toys and cash. "We're going to make our goal," says committee chairman Mike Stockwell.

Stockwell thinks the economy was a factor in the theft. "We've been hit real hard in the aircraft industry," he says.

Gary Balcom, a retired police officer, believes the economy was a factor in the theft of up to $2,000 in toys collected by the Myrtle Beach, S.C., chapter of ABATE, a motorcycle rights group .

"There are people out there having hard times, and sometimes they just steal," he says.

In 2008, ABATE's Toys for Kids program helped 802 children, says Balcom, its assistant coordinator. Since the theft was discovered Sunday, he's had dozens of calls from people who want to donate.

Elsewhere:

- After 28 Christmas trees were stolen this month from a Lions Club lot in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., President Debi Braddick was angry. "How do you steal from a charity-based organization that gives it all back?" she asks.

Tree sales are the club's major fundraising effort; proceeds go to scholarships and a program that loans wheelchairs and other medical equipment to residents.

Braddick says her "faith was restored" when people paid $5 extra for a tree or gave cash. A power company, donated two wheelchairs.

- About 150 gifts for needy children were stolen last week from Church of the Little Flower in Springfield, Ill. Since then, donations have "quadrupled what we had to begin with," church secretary Nancy Burton says.

A company that decided to skip its holiday party donated money that would have been spent on it, and one man gave his Christmas bonus.

- Hundreds of children's gifts were swiped this month from the Salvation Army of Ithaca and Tompkins County, N.Y. Discovering the theft was "like someone punches you in the stomach," says Maj. Carl Ruthberg, but new donations covered the losses.

Since 1996, Michael Clayton, a lawyer in Santa Maria, Calif., has put an elaborate Santa's workshop display outside his office and invited youngsters to visit Santa. Last week someone stole an inflated Santa Claus and Grinch, candy canes and lights.

Clayton hopes the theft was prompted by despair, not greed. "I'm just hoping it goes to some needy family," he says. "Some poor father who might be out of work and is desperate to make some little kid's eyes light up."

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