GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Money and donations have poured in after Channel 9′s Ken Lemon first reported items had been stolen from a Toys for Tots drive near Belmont.
“We are luckily going to have somewhat of a happy ending thanks to your story,” said organizer Deborah Baxa.
Coordinators called to say Channel 9 viewers were working to replace everything stolen by a thief who posed as a volunteer.
After the story aired, calls started rolling in at Camelot Meadows, a lavish event center Baxa owns, and to other organizers. She said in just a few hours, people called and donated as much as $7,000 to buy more toys.
“I’m amazed,” Baxa said.
The generosity is still hard to believe for Baxa. She hosted the Toys For Tots event at Camelot Meadows and donated the space to make it happen.
“A lot of people donated time, money, their labor to pull this event off,” Baxa said.
They collected four boxes of toys for children who may not get any this Christmas.
The Marine Corps collects and distributes the toys. A volunteer with the Marines was supposed to pick up the four boxes of toys three days later, but he got swamped. On Wednesday morning, a man in a pickup truck arrived and said he was there to pick up for Toys For Tots.
“We helped him load up his truck,” Baxa said. “He had a Marines t-shirt on. Clean cut.”
“(They) said that they were from Toys for Tots, and they came to pick up the toys and just took them,” said Gwen Perkins, with Toys for Tots.
Two hours later, the real Toys For Tots coordinator called to arrange a pick-up.
When Perkins heard what happened, she knew something was wrong because it’s her husband’s job to pick up the toys. Those toys never got to their destination to be distributed to about 6,000 children in Gaston County.
“I took this very personally. It’s not just an event for me,” Baxa said.
Baxa has a nonprofit foundation to help needy children. She gave Channel 9 the information about what happened and then the phone started to ring. She got half a dozen more calls and so did the other organizers.
The calls were from businesses and strangers all offering to help.
They got so many calls that they decided to start another toy drive on Saturday.
Baxa told Channel 9 the most recent collection at Camelot Meadows was more than enough to replenish the four boxes that were taken.
“People are good and they will come to your help,” Baxa said. “I can’t thank you enough that we can do a redo.”
Baxa said they will also buy toys with the money they raised, but they are not waiting for pick up this time. They will deliver the toys to the warehouse themselves.
Channel 9 also heard from the Chief of Logistics for Charlotte Toys for Tots, who said they saw our story and will “answer the call to assist our Belmont family member. Arrangements are currently being made to transport our inventory to make to them whole this Holiday Season.”
‘I don’t think a real Marine would do that’
There is only one way in and out of Camelot Meadows, down a gravel road. Volunteers hope that people living on Armstrong Road may have security video of a truck with boxes of toys in the back.
The operators of a wedding venue donated the space Sunday night for the toy drive.
“We had a great turnout,” organizer Andrew Miller said. “We had a tremendous amount of toys donated.”
Andrew Miller said the attendees gave expensive gifts, not the traditional toys. Miller, a former U.S. Marine, said he was dumbfounded.
“I can’t imagine what goes through someone’s head to steal from children to impersonate a Marine Corps,” he said.
Perkins said they still have enough to give toys to every child who asks.
“I don’t think a real Marine would do that,” Perkins said.
Officials said there is a good chance that someone has video footage of the thief on a doorbell or security camera. Perkins had a message for the alleged thief.
“Shame on you and you’ll answer for it someday,” Perkins said. “I wouldn’t want that on my shoulders.”
Organizers believe the thief may have learned about the event from a post on social media.
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