A thief or thieves struck the organization’s temporary storage facility at the Almond Grove Elementary School gym sometime between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Tuesday. When Friends of Oakley President and Oakley Mayor Jim Frazier arrived at Almond Grove to prepare the facility for a sorting and gift-wrapping event to be held that afternoon, he discovered mountains of food and toys had been reduced to scraps.
When news reached Mike’s Beef ’N’ Brew across town on Tuesday evening, restaurant patrons began a collection drive that amassed $375 within a few hours. News spread on Facebook as people shared the heartbreaking story with friends and pledged support.
Frazier said the response has been overwhelming. As news of the theft appeared online, on TV, on radio and in print, the calls began to pour in.
“I need to charge my phone; it’s been ringing all day,” Frazier said Wednesday. “I’ve heard from people from all over the Bay Area, from Hercules to San Francisco. People are reaching out. I didn’t get much sleep last night, but I know we are going to fulfill our commitment to the 300 families and 200 seniors we’ve registered this year.”
Businesses throughout the Bay Area are rallying to help the Friends of Oakley. Angelina Kulla of Peace, Love, Swap pledged to donate all admissions proceeds from a Brentwood swap this Saturday to the Friends. Owners of The Oriental Carpet in Menlo Park have posted on Facebook that for every new “Like” they receive between now and Dec. 16, they will donate $5 to the Friends.
The news also struck a cord with many locals. Oakley resident Susan Morgan, a member of the Oakley Watchdog Group on Facebook, challenged the group’s 110 members to donate money to the Friends of Oakley, pledging that she would match each donation up to $2,000.
“I saw the news and like everyone else I thought ‘that’s awful. I hope people do something,’” Morgan said. “But then I realized everyone was asking people to help, but they weren’t saying what they were going to do. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is. It’s time to start doing something.”
Morgan said she knows the Oakley community will step up and support its neighbors in need, but time is of the essence. The Friends have two weeks to collect enough toys for 800 children. Collection barrels are located throughout the city and checks made out to the Friends of Oakley may be mailed to Friends of Oakley, 2063 Main St., #250, Oakley, CA 94561, or dropped off at City Hall, 3231 Main St.
Oakley Police are investigating the theft. “So far we are working a burglary case at Almond Grove Elementary School,” reported Oakley Police Chief Bani Kollo via e-mail Tuesday evening. “The school gym was being used to store donated toys and food for the Christmas holiday. Sometime today unknown responsible(s) entered the gym and removed toys and food estimated at $4,000. No further (information) at this time.”
Frazier suspects that someone saw a volunteer delivering donated goods around 9 a.m. Tuesday and used a truck or SUV to load the toys and food later in the day. While the gym is hooked up to a security system, the alarm is disabled during the day when the campus is used by a special-needs school. Almond Grove is owned by the Oakley Union Elementary School District, but is not currently being used as an elementary school. When Frazier and volunteers arrived for the gift-wrapping event, they found the back door to the gym ajar. He estimates that 95 percent of the collected toys and at least half of the food donations were stolen.
“I’m in shock,” Frazier said. “It’s disgusting that someone would do something like this.”
Friends of Oakley have operated the Christmas Basket program for four years. Families receive a box of food, including fresh fruit and vegetables, a turkey and a wrapped toy for each child in the family. Seniors are provided goody bags filled with food, word puzzles and hygiene products. While the thieves left the handmade gifts for seniors untouched, most of the toys for children 12 and younger were stolen.
Friends of Oakley Vice President Pat Anderson was stunned to see that hundreds of toys and nonperishable food items had vanished in broad daylight. “I never imagined anything like this could ever happen,” she said, wiping away tears. “So many families in our community are relying on us this year. I don’t understand why someone would do this. I guess whoever did this needed these toys more.”
Friends of Oakley volunteer Cindy Tumin was also shaken by the news of the theft. “I’m just shocked. It’s bad enough to steal, but to steal from charity? It’s unconscionable.”
For now, the remaining gifts and food have been relocated to an area that will remain hooked to an alarm system 24/7, and police will increase patrols in the area. For more information about how to support the Friends of Oakley, call Frazier at 925-250-6831 or visit www.friendsofoakley.com.