THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

1,500 gifts stolen from Toys for Tots

Locked bin in Burlington allegedly rifled for items geared to preteens

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By Emma Stickgold and John Ellement
Globe Correspondent | Globe Staff / December 20, 2010

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They were meant for needy children. Piles of presents sitting in a storage unit in Burlington awaited the holiday and their new owners.

But in a Grinch-like maneuver early Saturday, someone stole 1,500 toys that had been collected by the Toys for Tots program.

State Police said it appears the thief — or thieves — rifled through the piles and picked certain gifts, those for children 8 and older and those valued at roughly $15 to $30. The total loss came to about $15,000.

“This is a despicable crime against the generous people who donated these toys and against hundreds of children in need who would have received these gifts and who now will not,’’ State Police Colonel Marian J. McGovern said in a statement yesterday afternoon announcing the theft.

The incident comes near the end of a challenging year for the charity, which saw a significant drop in donations and sizable increase in requests for gifts.

“It has been tough,’’ said Lieutenant David Wilson, a spokesman for the State Police, last night.

State Police said it appears the locked storage container, which was located outside a well-lighted warehouse, was broken into between 2 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. Saturday.

A second storage container was apparently tampered with as well, State Police said, but no gifts were taken from it.

Police had few details, including how many people may have been involved and whether surveillance cameras recorded the crime.

“It’s still under investigation,’’ Wilson said.

The toys were collected as part of the US Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program, which rounds up tens of thousands of gifts each year, distributing them through nonprofit organizations and churches. State Police have been assisting with collection for 26 years.

The storage containers have since been secured and are being processed for potential physical evidence, according to State Police.

The Toys for Tots donation period ended Friday. Even if they could get replacement toys, organizers probably would not have time before Christmas to sort and distribute them to charities that give them to clients, State Police said in the statement.

As many expressed outrage via Twitter and other social media, many pointed to a Starbucks on Soldiers Field Road that vowed last night to collect toys specifically intended to replace the 1,500 missing gifts.

“It’s such an important time of year for kids, so we really jumped on it,’’ Rebecca Dunham, a barista at that Starbucks, said last night.

And even if the Grinch, or Grinches, involved followed in the footsteps of the original Christmas-hating Dr. Seuss character, growing a heart several sizes larger, and returned the purloined presents, police will be looking for them.

“The State Police and the Burlington Police will do everything we can to find who did this and try to recover these toys,’’ McGovern said.

Christopher J. Girard contributed to this report. John Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com; Emma R. Stickgold can be reached at estickgold@globe.com.