When volunteers left a small donation center in the Town of Tonawanda on Thursday afternoon, the cupboards were fully stocked with school supplies destined for needy kids.
When they returned Tuesday morning, staff at the Ken-Ton Closet discovered one or more back-to-school grinches had gotten into their second-floor rooms in the Parkside Village Community Center via an unlocked door. The cupboards were stripped bare of hundreds of dollars worth of backpacks, crayons, notebooks and other supplies just days before classes resume next Thursday.
Donated clothes in bags and on racks were rifled through and dumped on the floor, they say. Boxes full of toiletries such as toothbrushes and toothpaste were ransacked as well.
On top of cleaning up the intruders’ mess, volunteers say they’re worried about being able to replenish the inexpensive supplies when stock may be running low at stores.
“Our major concern at this point is that a lot of the supplies that were taken, which cost less than a dollar, are now difficult to get this close to school,” said Jill O’Malley, a Ken-Ton Closet organizer.
Volunteers will hold a cleanup at the center from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday.
After word of the burglary went out on Facebook, several groups stepped forward, including a Junior Girl Scout troop that will accept donations from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Kenmore Farmers’ Market.
The troop’s 17 members had been looking for a way to help the Closet, said troop leader Laura Nagel.
“At first I was really sad and heartbroken because I know how many parents are in need of school supplies and how expensive they can be every year,” said Nagel. “Within hours of putting out phone calls, I was just amazed at all the support – all the parents that are willing to just go out and drop everything and buy stuff right now.”
The owners of Bumblebeez Consignment and Children’s Boutique on Brighton Road in the Town of Tonawanda also offered to host a drop-off site for donations until Tuesday.
The Ken-Ton Closet was completely cleaned out of the following items: crayons, thin and thick markers, highlighters, index cards, pens, pencils, erasers, composition books, glue sticks and bottles of glue, pencil boxes, kids scissors, colored pencils and three-subject notebooks.
Because the center’s shelves were so full, O’Malley said she had stockpiled additional donated school supplies at home, which should be enough to help the group get by for now.
“Once the kids go to school and the teachers realize what they don’t have, we expect to get more calls, so we want to stock back up,” she said.
Volunteers alerted the area’s major retailers to be on the lookout for any large-scale returns. But mostly it irks O’Malley to know that the supplies won’t end up in the hands of students who really need them and who would have gotten them for free. Staff only asks for proof of town residency and limits the quantity people can take.
“We figure if people come to us and are asking for help, they probably need it,” she said. “These individuals took pretty much everything we had.”