In the wake of a $2-million alleged theft of toys and other items from its North York warehouse on the eve of its annual Christmas campaign, Salvation Army officials were nervous. While the public was bound to be sympathetic, would they choose not to give to the campaign that helps thousands of less fortunate people?
“But what we quickly found out (was) we had people in our corner,” said Neil Leduke, the Salvation Army’s director of communications. “It (the alleged theft) was such a dark shadow but we’ve been able to celebrate and move forward.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, 127,775 toys had been donated to the campaign and Leduke said the Salvation Army expects to achieve its goal of 150,000 toys by the end of this week.
Last year at this time, just over 100,000 toys had been donated.
People and companies appalled by the alleged theft have jumped in to help, Leduke said.
“People come to us and they’re upset this has happened to us,” he said. “(People say) ‘How can this happen to the Salvation Army? How could somebody do this?’”
In late November, the Salvation Army announced that 100,000 toys and other items had been taken over two years from its warehouse and distribution centre on Railside Road, southeast of the Don Valley Parkway and Lawrence Avenue.
The alleged theft was discovered when a whistleblower came forward. The former executive director of the warehouse, David Rennie, and Umaish Ramrattan are each facing numerous charges including theft and trafficking in stolen goods. They will appear in court Jan. 4.
Shortly after the alleged theft was announced, Toronto police found 150 skids of toys, cribs, strollers, food and personal care items allegedly stolen from the Salvation Army at Northern Sales Group near Weston Road and Steeles Avenue while other items were discovered in a cold storage warehouse in Brampton.
A few days later, investigators seized 122 storage bins containing $24,000 worth of toys, also allegedly stolen from the organization, from 51 Orfus Rd. west of Dufferin Street and at 2300 Lawrence Ave., east of Birchmount Road.
Immediately after the alleged theft came to light, several companies such as Hasbro, Spin Master and the Canadian Toy Association donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in toys to the Salvation Army’s campaign.
Many individuals and families have also donated to the campaign, saying they want to make sure the Salvation Army is able to provide the less fortunate with toys and other items for the holidays, Leduke said.
Some people, including regular donors, said they would not be contributing this year because they were upset so much was allegedly stolen from the warehouse over such a long period of time, Leduke acknowledged. But once church officials explained that they cherish every donation, most people agreed to give, he said.
Meanwhile, church officials put in strengthened and new security measures at the warehouse after the alleged theft was discovered. And financial giant KPMG is conducting a forensic audit and will make recommendations, Leduke said.