Theft of toys and books sours festive spirit for St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, East Maitland parishioners

SHOCKED: East Maitland Presbyterian church parishioners Alison Rae, Lynette Begg, Judy Haigh and at front, Elizabeth Donovan. Picture: Sage Swinton
SHOCKED: East Maitland Presbyterian church parishioners Alison Rae, Lynette Begg, Judy Haigh and at front, Elizabeth Donovan. Picture: Sage Swinton

You probably couldn’t get two more opposite types of people - church parishioners collecting gifts for those in need and an opportunistic thief stealing those gifts in broad daylight.

But that was the sad reality that the parishioners at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church at East Maitland found themselves when three large bags full of toys and books were stolen from outside the church on Sunday.

Parishioner Judy Haigh had four bags full of donations ready to give to the Salvation Army in her car before the Sunday service, but three of them were too heavy for her to bring inside the church.

She popped them near the front fence for one of the male parishioners to bring inside.

But in the five minute gap between the Ms Haigh sitting the bags against the fence and the male parishioner going out to get them, the bags disappeared.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Ms Haigh said.

“It was just dreadful, I started to cry.”

Ms Haigh said bags that people had donated for the church op shop had been left outside before, sometimes for the duration of the church service.

“We’ve never had anything happen like this before,” she said.

“Who would steal from outside a church?

“I was so disgusted to think that people would do that kind of thing.”

Parishioners scoured the surrounding streets in the hope the thief had dumped the bags after realising they only contained toys and books, but the search came up empty.

“They’d be no good to anyone,” Ms Haigh said.

Ms Haigh said the day’s service was not the same after the incident.

“Everyone was so flat,” she said. “The whole day was sour.”

But the parishioners still prayed for whoever it was that stole the bags, and Ms Haigh said she urged the person to just return the items for the sake of those in need this Christmas.

“Will you please think of Christmas and the children who are going to do without?” She said.

“It’s the children who are going to miss out now.”

Ms Haigh reported the incident to police, but was not confident the person would be caught.

The church is still taking donations for the Salvation Army, and urge people to donate what they can.