It took a decade for a Grinch to spoil a LaOtto Volunteer Fire Department holiday fundraiser that relies on the honor system.
The fire department last week began its annual tradition of selling Christmas trees. The pines and firs measured between 6 feet and 12 feet tall and were priced from $40 to $150.
Because it is unrealistic for an all-volunteer station to man the fundraiser, Capt. Britton Burkhart said, the fire department collected money with a locked metal box bolted to a brick wall.
“We'd clean it out on a daily basis,” Burkhart said.
The system worked without problems for 10 years until Saturday night, when someone stole the box, he said.
The fire department isn't sharing the estimated loss, but Burkhart on Monday described its shortfall as several hundred dollars.
Those with information about the theft are asked to contact the fire department or Noble County Sheriff's Department.
The fundraiser – one of the fire department's biggest each year – typically raises $3,000 to $4,000, Burkhart said. Proceeds go toward new equipment, station maintenance and operational costs, including utility bills, he added.
“Not only did the thieves steal from a volunteer organization, they stole from ALL of YOU since we use the money to serve you,” the fire department said Sunday in a Facebook post.
There is a silver lining, however. The community has rallied behind the fire department, which has about two dozen people on its roster but about a dozen regular members, Burkhart said.
Businesses, the surrounding community and a former resident now living out of state have offered an “outpouring of generosity” to make it right, Burkhart said.
Facebook users responded to news of the crime with outrage and inquiries about how to donate, including one man's offer to replace the first $100 of loss.
The fire department replaced the collection box Monday for those planning to buy the remaining Christmas trees, Burkhart said. The station is at 11595 E. Indiana 205 in LaOtto, a community northwest of Fort Wayne in Noble County.
Burkhart had encouraging words for the department's supporters.
“We'll bounce back,” he said.