Grinch robs Shrewsbury church of Christmas gifts, but kindly parishioners step in with replacements

Shrewsbury-12/05/12- "It's just sad." said an upset parish secretary, Judy Goselin as she stood in front of a storage shed on the property of St Ann's Catholic Church, where a grinch broke into the right door and stole gift cards and presents for the town's needy children. Boston Globe staff photo by John Tlumacki (lifestyle)
"It's just sad," said upset parish secretary Judy Goselin as she stood in front of the storage shed where the presents were stored.Credit: John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

SHREWSBURY—Elaine LeBlanc was overwhelmed today, but in a good way.

The volunteer director of human services at St. Anne’s Catholic Church was helping to collect donations and offers of help flooding into the parish in the wake of the robbery of a cache of donated Christmas gifts.

“You don’t expect something like this to happen, I mean you always see it happening elsewhere, but you don’t think in your own backyard,’’ Blanc said of both the theft and the outpouring of giving. “But the goodness of people is unbelievable. I can’t say enough. I’m overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed at it happening, but seeing the results of that, I mean, people have come forward from everywhere.’’

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Parish secretary Judy Goselin earlier today said that the thousands of dollars worth of donated gifts were collected for “children who don’t have anything.’’ The church has a “giving tree” every Christmas season to benefit Shrewsbury children, Goselin said. Parishioners take a tag from the tree with the Christmas list of a particular child and then bring the items to the church, she said.

The presents were being stored in a freestanding shed on the grounds of the church, which is located on Route 9.

The door to the shed was locked routinely, but when staff went out to the shed Tuesday, they discovered something was terribly wrong.

“The door was kicked in,” Goselin said. “Everything was taken, everything that a child would need or want.”

The shed contained thousands of dollars worth of clothing, toys, and gift cards for gas and groceries, said Goselin, a Holden resident who has been the parish secretary for four years.

“It sickened me,” she said. “People were very generous and it’s all gone.”

Shrewsbury police responded to the scene just before 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sergeant Alfred Charles Pratt III said in a statement.

The thief or thieves broke into the shed sometime after 1:15 p.m. on Monday, Pratt said. Church staff members called police Tuesday when they realized the donations were gone.

“The presents were for children in need and most of the gift cards were to be used to purchase food and other essentials by the families,” Pratt said.

The stolen gifts are valued at $2,000 to $3,000, he said.

The Hasbro toy company has offered to replace all of the stolen toys to help ensure that Christmas comes on time for the children, Goselin said.

Parishioners have also offered to repurchase the gifts that they had donated, she said.

“The giving here is unbelievable,” Goselin said. “This is a great parish. God is good.”

Goselin said that past Christmas collections have gone off without a hitch and she is not sure who would steal the presents.

“It’s a very active parish and there’s a lot going on here,” she said. “It could have been anybody.”

St. Anne’s runs a food bank and thrift store and hosts a free medical clinic once a week, Goselin said.

Police urged anyone with information about the theft to contact Detective Michael R. McGinnis of the Shrewsbury police at 508-845-4681.

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