It has been a roller coaster week for the Ken-Ton Closet.
Tuesday morning, staff at the small donation center in the Parkside Village Community Center discovered at least one thief had accessed the center via an unlocked door and made off with hundreds of dollars in donated school supplies – supplies intended to help disadvantaged kids from the Town of Tonawanda get ready for the start of school.
But just days later, as word of the break-in spread via news reports and social media, the Ken-Ton Closet is stuffed with back-to-school supplies once more, thanks to the generosity of many in the community who felt moved to help a center more accustomed to doing the helping itself.
Donations poured in throughout the day Friday as dozens of volunteers – many of whom were new to the center – worked to clean up the mess thieves left behind.
Local families brought armfuls of binders, composition notebooks, and other back-to-school necessities.
A representative from Univera Healthcare delivered 48 neon green backpacks stuffed with school supplies, all donated by local businesses and Univera employees.
State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti teamed up with the Walmart on Sheridan Drive in Amherst to provide an additional 40-plus backpacks.
And elsewhere in the community, local businesses and a Junior Girl Scout troop are all in the process of collecting even more supplies to replenish the center’s stock.
All told, organizers said the recent donations have more than made up for the stolen supplies.
“We knew people were going to come through,” said Jill O’Malley, a Ken-Ton Closet organizer. “We had no idea it was going to be like this.”
O’Malley and a team of volunteers were busy sorting through the new donations. She said the community’s outpouring of support made her day “crazy in a good way.”
Univera and Sen. Grisanti’s donations by themselves were each enough to cover the lost supplies, O’Malley said. “Everything else is going to be extra,” she said.
O’Malley said the center is taking steps to prevent another break-in, including marking new donations’ barcodes with a permanent marker to prevent them from being returned, and partnering with schools to distribute supplies instead of keeping them at the center to give to individual families.
In addition, a local security company has offered to donate a security system. O’Malley said the center will work with the Town of Tonawanda, which owns the space where the Ken-Ton Closet is located, to install the system.
Sen. Grisanti, D-Buffalo, said he was “disgusted” when he learned that supplies intended for underprivileged kids had been stolen, and promptly decided to do something about it. He and the Amherst Walmart agreed to split the cost of the donated supplies.
“We’re just glad to pitch in as much as we can,” he said, adding “it’s a good ending to a bad story.”