SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — The Owosso Salvation Army’s ongoing annual Red Kettle Drive appears to have been targeted by thieves, impairing the charity’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
Over the past two weeks, two counter kettles set up inside local businesses — along with the donated bills and coins they contained — have turned up missing.
In addition, a sand bag anchoring an outdoor kettle disappeared overnight, causing the kettle and stand to tip over.
Lt. Justin Steckbauer, director of the Owosso citadel, said Wednesday he hasn’t reported the incidents to police yet: He’s holding out hope the sand bag and counter kettles will turn up.
But if they were removed unlawfully, “it’s quite discouraging when something gets stolen from a charity for the hungry, the needy and the homeless,” Steckbauer said. “It hurts.”
A sand bag holding a kettle stand in place at VG’s grocery store in Owosso Township was removed recently. Steckbauer expressed appreciation to the store for replacing the bag with a bundle of firewood.
Counter kettles in Big Boy in Caledonia Township and Rollin’ Smokes in Owosso have gone missing. The counter kettle at Big Boy had been collecting money for three months, he said.
The latest incident took place Wednesday morning, when a bell-ringer arrived for a shift at the Walgreen’s in Caledonia Township to find a salt bag missing, and the kettle and stand fallen over.
However, in an update Wednesday afternoon, the salt bag was located. Turns out, a Walgreen’s employee had stored it inside the drugstore overnight. Other items, however, remain missing.
More than 100 bell-ringers have been taking shifts at 11 outdoor kettle locations across Shiawassee County for this year’s drive, which is running from Nov. 11 through Dec. 24, and about 100 counter kettles placed inside businesses.
The Owosso Salvation Army’s goal for its big fundraiser of the year is $55,000. So far, volunteers have collected about $14,000 — 25 percent of the target amount.
“This does affect our ability to meet our goal,” Steckbauer said. “We estimate there was $100 to $300 in the counter kettle at Big Boy’s.”
Lt. Eric Cherry of the Owosso Public Safety Department said a computer search showed no reported larcenies connected with the Salvation Army’s Kettle Drive in the past 20 years.
He suggested anyone with information contact the police agency with jurisdiction over the site of the theft.
The Salvation Army relies on Kettle Drive donations for its free lunch program, special church services, back-to-school and coat giveaways for students from needy families, food pantry and much more.
“The funds are used toward all of our programs throughout the year — camps, lunches and youth programs,” Steckbauer said.
He said although he is concerned the recent apparent thefts will hurt bell-ringers’ morale, “We have such great volunteers. They’re just pushing forward. I hope this will inspire us to rally together even more so.”
Steckbauer — a recent Salvation Army hire who is running the Kettle Drive for the first time — said he doesn’t plan to start bringing the 11 outdoor kettles and stands inside at night.
For one thing, at 40 pounds they are heavy to lift, even though strong winds can bring them down unless they are anchored with sand bags or in some other way.
“We’re going to continue to do things the way we have,” Steckbauer said. “The labor that would be involved in bringing them inside every night, that would be tough to do.”