POLK CITY – The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is on the hunt for a real life Grinch who may have stolen the Christmas away from a lot of children in the Lakeland area.
The woman robbed a local restaurant that was conducting a toy drive for the holidays, and made off with the gifts that were supposed to be given to needy children.
The robbery prompted Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd to call this a particularly mean-spirited act.
“This woman, who we like to refer to as a ‘Grinch,’ took toys away from needy children,” Judd said. “Anyone who would stoop so low deserves to spend Christmas in jail.”
The theft happened around 9:50 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17 at the Hungry Howie’s Pizza at 221 Commonwealth Ave. in Polk City, which was conducting a Toys for Tots drive and had a donation box inside the restaurant, which was closed at the time.
A video surveillance camera captured images of a woman entering the restaurant, and then removing the large cardboard donation box filled with toys for needy children.
“Just like the song says, she’s a mean one!” Judd said.
The Polk County Sheriff’s office is now asking anyone with information on this theft, or who can help identify the suspect – described as a white woman in her 20s or 30s with long straight brown hair, wearing a green t-shirt with “Florida” written on it – to call Detective Jessica Pyke at 863-577-1630 or 863-287-2367.
Toys for Tots is a charitable effort started in Los Angeles in 1947, by a family that wanted to donate toys to needy kids but couldn’t find any local organizations that were doing this. They turned to a group of Marine reservists in the Los Angeles area, who took up the challenge and coordinated and collected 5,000 toys for local children in that year alone, largely through collection bins placed outside of Warner Bros. movie theaters. This campaign was so successful that by 1948, Toys For Tots became a national campaign.
By 1980, Marine reservists had decided to only accept new toys, rather than used ones. In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama placed the first collection box at the White House, and by that year, the Toys for Tots Program and Foundation had collected and distributed almost five hundred million toys since the late 1940s.
Carrie Eleazer, public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said so far this holiday season, the Polk City theft has been the only reported case of a Grinch targeting donated toys and gifts meant for children in Polk County.
“I not heard of that happening yet,” she said. “Hopefully we won’t be hearing about any more.”
On a more positive note, the Southeast District Community Oriented Policing Deputies and Polk Sheriff’s Charities are sponsoring a Christmas Party for a number of needy families from the Eloise area at the Johnny and Freda Brooks Eloise Resource Center, 710 Snively Ave., on Thursday at 6 p.m. Deputies have raised money and coordinated donations to buy gifts for children and provide a Christmas dinner for the families. Santa and Mrs. Clause are joining the event, which will also feature refreshments, a Christmas movie, and presents for children.
Anyone who wants to provide the sheriff’s office with information about the Polk City theft, while remaining anonymous, can become eligible for a cash reward if they call Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-TIPS or log onto Heartland Crime Stoppers.
To learn where to donate toys to the Marines Toys for Tots Foundation in the Greater Orlando area, call 407-240-5939, Ext. 1707, and ask for the coordinator, Master Sergeant Aaron VanNostrand, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to Toys for Tots.
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