Oak Harbor thief grabs Salvation Army kettle and runs

Oak Harbor police are looking for a thief who grabbed a kettle filled with holiday donations from a Salvation Army site at Wal-Mart early Wednesday evening.

Police Chief Rick Wallace said the volunteer bell-ringer manning the kettle was a Junior ROTC student. He left his kettle momentarily to go inside the store for a soft drink, and when he returned the kettle was gone.

Early Thursday afternoon police had just started reviewing Wal-Mart's extensive security tapes. "They tape everything inside and outside," Wallace said.

He hoped to have more information after viewing the tapes. While there was at least one witness to the incident, Wallace said the description of the thief was "vague."

Wallace has been with the Oak Harbor police for several decades. He said he recalls past incidents in which money has been stolen from Salvation Army kettles, but he can't remember another time when someone took the entire kettle.

Stacy Howard, community relations director for the Northwest Division of the Salvation Army, said kettles and bell-ringers had been out in Oak Harbor for only about a week when the theft occurred.

"That's the first one in our division to be stolen this year," she said in an email. "We've only had kettles up a week so it's a bit nerve-racking since last year we had one stolen the entire season."

"Someone ran by, grabbed it off the stand and kept running," Howard said, estimating the loss as "at least $300."

Chief Wallace said the kettle itself was worth $40.

Howard was saddened by the loss.

"Our kettle campaign is one of our biggest fundraisers each year. This year especially, we're seeing a large increase in need for our services and a decrease in donor support. So we're relying on those kettle donations to help us continue helping others," she said.

James Bruner helps organize Salvation Army bell-ringers in Oak Harbor. He wrote that the theft was perpetrated by "some soulless scum who would rob from the needy." He suggests that anyone who wants to show their support volunteer to collect spare change for those less fortunate. Inquire at 675-8313 for a shift at Wal-Mart, Kmart or Safeway.

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