By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 11, 2011; B01
For 10 months, the children of the New Creation Church in Montgomery County collected pennies and brought them to Sunday services. They dropped them into a 5-gallon bottle, the kind that fits upside down into water coolers.
After 30,000 pennies, brought in by adults as well, the bottle was full. So the pastor started storing pennies in a bag. Her plan: collect 100,000 coins in the "Penny Project" and donate $1,000 to an organization that helps poor children.
Sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning, the Wheaton area church was broken into, and about 40,000 pennies were stolen, Montgomery police said.
What's more, the intruder appears to have gone into the church freezer, pulled out hamburger meat and cooked a meal. And the thief went on to a church computer and looked at pornography - leaving the vulgar images on the screen that shocked a deacon just before Sunday services.
"People just don't have the same respect for churches that they used to," said Ella Redfield, pastor of New Creation, a Baptist church with about 70 members.
The church has been broken into two other times recently.
Sometime between Nov. 28 and Dec. 2, a thief or thieves broke in through a window and left with a small safe, Redfield and police said. There was only about $100 inside, Redfield said. But the safe contained tax and financial documents. "I've been trying to put that all back together," Redfield said.
The intruder left evidence of trying to get the pennies: The big water jug was on its side, and some of the coins had spilled out. "I'm sure it took more than one person to eventually steal the pennies," she said.
On Sunday morning, Redfield showed up for Sunday services. She smelled cooked meat and almost slipped on grease on the floor. "They had the audacity to cook," she said.
This time, the intruders got the coins, which by now were being stored in two places: the 30,000 in the jug under Redfield's desk, and at least 10,000 more in a bag in a computer room. Church officials checked the computer and turned off the porn site.
Then things turned violent:
On Sunday evening, a preacher from a different congregation that uses the building for services found a man hiding in a basement bathroom. He tried to keep the man from leaving, police said. Instead the intruder, who had a key in his fist, punched the preacher, who declined medical transport for his injuries, police said.
Police described the suspect of the recent crime as a white man, 22 to 25, about 5-feet-10, 180 to 200 pounds, with blond hair worn above the collar.
When the church got to 100,000 pennies, officials were planning to show the collection to politicians before turning the money in. The coins would have represented all of the kids in the region living in poverty, Redfield said.
"This was children working to draw attention to children living in poverty," she said