Salvation Army Maj. Christine Smith reached into the torn cartons piled on the scuffed linoleum floor of the Wisconsin Avenue storefront in Northwest Washington. Gaps in the neat stacks of toys wedged into the boxes revealed what was missing: Pink plastic infant rattles, miniature firemen's helmets, boxed crib toys, puzzles.
From one carton, Smith picked up a sealed plastic flower-shaped telephone with a headset. Some of the telephones were missing. "There are little phones that teenagers really like," said Smith, who purchased all the items to supplement donated gifts for the Salvation Army's Washington area "Angel Tree" program for needy children.
"Doctor's kits," she said. Also gone.
"Dump trucks." Gone.
"Tool sets." Gone.
Smith's soft voice hardened. She's so angry "that someone would do that to children that you're trying to help."
That "someone" broke into the storefront last weekend and stole $2,500 in toys. Also missing is the computer equipment containing information about the 2,000 families who had signed up to receive Angel Tree gifts as well as information about gift donors.
"All we do at that location is provide Christmas toys for families -- that's all we do," said Maj. Todd Smith, general secretary of the Salvation Army National Capital Area. He said he is struggling to understand why "someone would stoop to the point that they would take these toys and these tools that help us provide Christmas gifts to these families. . . . They're nice toys, but they're not Game Boys, they're not Walkmans, they're not $80 electronic items."
The theft came on top of another blow for the 119-year-old institution: Target Corp. told the Salvation Army recently that it will no longer allow the group's "bell ringers," with their trademark red kettles, outside its stores nationwide. That includes its stores in the Washington area, potentially depriving the local Salvation Army of the $60,000 it receives annually from its Target kettles.
But the Salvation Army is rallying. Other Washington area retailers -- Circuit City, Michaels and Books-a-Million -- have stepped forward to allow the group to set up its kettles outside their stores.
And since the toy theft, the organization has fielded a steady stream of calls from people offering to donate more toys or help out in other ways.
The biggest financial donation so far is a $5,000 check from SunTrust Bank of Greater Washington. The group plans to use part of the SunTrust donation to buy laptop computers and other portable computer equipment that can be locked up at night.
On Monday, a team of volunteers plans to start a two-week-long task of reentering the lost computer information, using paper files the organization still has.
Normally at this time of the year, Salvation Army workers take applications from low-income parents and send information about their children's Christmas wishes to businesses and individuals across the Washington area. Donors bring toys and other items to malls and Salvation Army facilities.
In December, parents will file through "Toyland," as the storefront is called for the season, and choose items for their children for holiday gifts.
Salvation Army leaders vowed that the burglary won't affect children's holidays, saying they'll buy more toys even if they don't receive sufficient donations to replace them by using regular operating funds.
"No child will go without this Christmas" because of the theft, said Dan Koscielak, the Salvation Army's director of marketing.
D.C. police detectives have been questioning Salvation Army workers and are seeking information about the break-in from informants on the street, authorities said.
They have also been checking pawnshop operators and others who deal in secondhand merchandise to get leads on who might be peddling the stolen goods.
So far, Capt. Bill Manning said, detectives have not recovered any of the missing items and urged anyone with information to call police at 202-727-9099.
Staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.