BURLEY — The front office at the Mini-Cassia Christmas Council on Thursday looked like the aftermath of Christmas morning. One where unruly children promptly shredded the packaging and destroyed most of the toys.
A few weeks ago, many of the toys gathered by the charity to give to local children in need this Christmas were stolen. Although some were returned, to the dismay of volunteers, they discovered about three-quarters of the items are unusable due to the destruction of the packaging and broken toys. And many of the stolen toys have not been not recovered.
“There’s sure not $10,000 to $15,000 worth of toys here,” volunteer Carla Blincoe of Paul said as she picked through the boxes.
The council works with the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, which requires that all donated toys are in unopened packages.
The bulk of the toys had been donated by Brother Speed South Central Chapter motorcycle club, which donated $31,000 worth of new toys in December 2017 along with a $10,000 check.
“Stealing from little children and making little old ladies cry are my biggest pet peeves,” Gary Pawson, Brother Speed South Central Chapter president said. “It’s personal. It’s a passion of ours.”
Kaden Black, 20, is charged with felony counts of grand theft, burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary. Two teenagers were also charged with the same counts as Black, and a third is accused of letting the others store the stolen toys at his home.
A preliminary hearing for Black is set for Friday in Cassia County Magistrate Court.
Council President Linda Short stopped by the Overland Avenue building on Memorial Day to check on water damage at the building and discovered the theft. As she went to the back of the building to check the plastic tubs that were lined up to collect leaking water, she discovered the tubs were missing. Perplexed, she turned around and walked down the line of toys against the wall that were divided into age groups. There, she found most of the preteen and teen items missing.
“At first I didn’t realize what had happened,” Short said. “Then it dawned on me that all of it had been stolen. I was sick to my stomach. I had been so excited because we were set for a good year even though we had spent our reserve money on repairs to the building.”
As the volunteers examined the building closer they discovered that adult gifts had also been ripped out of their plastic sacks. What the thieves didn’t want, they discarded at the back of the building.
Short said workers had been repairing the water damage from the alley entrance and had left a mechanical lift in the alley. She believes suspects likely used the lift to access an unlocked second-story window.
“They had been here more than one time,” Short said.
The suspects were caught, Short said, after someone recognized a drone helicopter recently purchased by the council being sold on the Burley Buy Sell Trade Facebook page.
Cassia County Sheriff deputies tracked the post to one of the teenagers.
When they learned some of the toys had been recovered they were ecstatic, Short said.
“When the police were on their way, I went to the filing cabinet thinking I needed a piece of chocolate that I had stashed there and found it was gone too,” Short said.
They also discovered a can of SpaghettiOs the suspects had partially eaten and left.
“When we got the toys back I was stunned when I saw the ripped up packages and broken toys,” Short said. “I just had this sinking feeling seeing all of this destroyed.”
Volunteer Mary Lou Castaneda said volunteers had already sorted all of the toys into age groups, and they had a good idea of what was there.
“It’s hard to believe when stuff like this happens,” Castaneda said. “I got this feeling in my gut that just made me sick.”
Two Minico High School seniors, Kassandra Magana and Victoria Aguinaga are doing a fundraiser as their senior project to help replace toys for the non-profit charity. They will be distributing money jars and boxes for new toys at businesses and churches across Mini-Cassia.
“When I first heard about it, I thought about the Grinch,” Magana said. “And then I thought, but there are always angels that come and help.”
Short said the council will have to ask the community for early donations in order to have enough to fill the more than 500 gift and food boxes given out to families each year. Most needed are preteen and teen toys and items along with gifts for adults.
And the council may need to forego handing out the meat certificates this year, Short said.
“I’m still trying to formulate a plan and wrap my head around it. When you work for something your whole life and have it knocked out from under you, it’s a bit like losing a loved-one,” Short said. “It’s like your baby. In the 28 years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Short worries that if donations come in now, they won’t come in later, which will affect next year as well.
“It’s sure taking a toll,” she said.
Still, Short harbors no ill will towards the suspects.
“The only way I can live with myself is to forgive them,” she said. “If you don’t, it takes all the joy out of Christmas.”