When Capt. Erin Smullen realized someone had broken into the Salvation Army in Sanford and stolen $1,700 in donations, her thoughts went immediately to the people in the community who had given money to help their neighbors.

Some of those people who dropped their dollars and coins into the Salvation Army’s red kettles on Christmas Eve can’t afford to give much, and the idea that their donations were gone troubled Smullen. But hours after news of the theft began circulating around the city, Sanford businesses and residents started giving money to cover the loss. And then some.

“It’s been amazing,” Smullen said. “It’s the community helping the community.”

The Salvation Army has now collected more than three times the amount stolen. Three local businesses – Central Furniture, Sanford Safe Storage and SIS Bank – each gave $1,700 to the organization.

NO ARRESTS IN THE INCIDENT

Sometime between 3:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve and 10 a.m. on Dec. 26, a burglar or burglars pried open a metal door at the rear of the Salvation Army building at 871 Main St., made their way to a second floor office and broke into a 4-foot, 120-pound safe. Inside was $1,700 in cash collected in kettles on Christmas Eve that could not be deposited in the bank until after the holiday.

Sanford police said Thursday that they continue to investigate the theft and have not made any arrests in the incident.

Mark Rouillard, who owns Central Furniture with his brother Matt, was scrolling through his Twitter feed when he came across a news story about the break-in. He immediately called his brother to talk about a theft that he knew would directly affect people in their community.

“It’s the community helping the community,” Salvation Army Capt. Erin Smullen said Thursday after three local businesses each covered the $1,700 in donations that were stolen from the Sanford service organization.

“We thought it was outrageous,” Rouillard said. “Usually when we make a big donation we talk about it back and forth. This time we just said we should cover it. It was that easy and quick.”

Rouillard said he and his brother made the donation on behalf of their staff and the customers who have supported their business for three generations. They hoped their donation would bring “comfort and relief” at a difficult time for the organization, which they support because of how effectively it provides help to people who need it.

The Sanford branch of the Salvation Army serves Sanford, Springvale, Shapleigh, Alfred, Lyman and Waterboro by helping people with rent, electricity and fuel assistance, providing food and gifts to families at Christmas, and sending children to summer camp. The organization also stocks a food pantry and provides support to keep families in their homes, Smullen said.

‘WASN’T A DIFFICULT DECISION’

Mark Patterson, who owns Sanford Safe Storage and Patco Construction with his brother Greg, didn’t hesitate to donate $1,700 when he heard about the theft. As a member of the Sanford Kiwanis, he has in the past rung the bell for the Salvation Army while collecting kettle donations.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision,” Patterson said. “The Salvation Army does so many wonderful things for people in need. They do good work and we’re glad to be part of it.”

While Patterson was happy to make a donation through his business, it’s the donations from individuals that he finds most impressive.

“Some of the donations come from people who have received help from the Salvation Army. That in itself represents how great of a service Salvation Army provides in our community,” he said.

SIS Bank, which is based in Sanford, made a donation to cover the stolen money because the Salvation Army “has done so much good for this community,” said Blaine Boudreau, the bank’s president and CEO.

“It is very disappointing, especially during the Christmas season, that their efforts had to be halted due to this crime,” Boudreau said in a written statement. “We want to make sure the Salvation Army can continue their mission during the holiday season and the New Year without skipping a beat.”

Smullen, who said this is the first theft in the five years she has worked in the Sanford office, said it has been “truly touching” to hear stories from people who have walked into the office to make donations.

“It’s the community’s money that was stolen, and it’s also the community that has stepped up to reimburse us,” she said. “It’s truly awe-inspiring to see the community help us.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

filed under: