The Salvation Army bell ringers are a sign that the holidays are here. But this year, those red kettles, stuffed with donations for the needy, have become a target for thieves in Contra Costa County.
The Salvation Army says not only is it losing money, but a string of red kettle thefts is now scaring some volunteers away.
Twice red kettles were snatched from the same spot just outside of the Hobby Lobby store in Concord. The latest theft happened Wednesday afternoon, when a volunteer wanted to stretch her legs, so she stepped away from the kettle, and when she turned around, the kettle filled with more than $200 was gone.
The volunteer then ran into the store and screamed, "Someone took my kettle!" according to Maj. Gwyn Edward Jones of the Salvation Army, Concord.
Salvation Army worker Brandon White guards his red kettle closely at his usual spot outside of the same Hobby Lobby. He’s trying to deter opportunists from striking again.
"There’s a couple of people that came here and looked at me, tried to figure out, you know, if they can get away with it and snatch it," White said.
One kettle was snatched outside the store last month and another kettle was stolen around 5 p.m. Wednesday. The Hobby Lobby surveillance cameras were no help because they were facing a different direction.
The Salvation Army Concord Community Church estimated it lost $500 in donations.
"It’s used to buy food, buy turkeys, help us run all year long, our year-round pantry," Jones said. "So, when it’s taken away, it means you have to work harder to find that money."
In Martinez, the Salvation Army says a con-man with a clipboard went up to a bell-ringer and claimed he was signing out the kettles.
"This volunteer, lovely guy, took him at face value and handed him the kettle, and he walked away with it," Jones said.
The string of thefts is discouraging volunteers from coming out to help collect donations, he said.
"We’ve lost some volunteers because they’ve heard these stories, and they’re like, 'Aw, I don’t want to do that, it sounds like it might be dangerous.' Well it’s not!" Jones said.
The Salvation Army filed a report with Concord police, and the department says it is stepping up patrols along Willow Pass Road during the holiday season.
Also, this is the first year people can donate money to the Salvation Army using Apple or Google Pay via their smartphones.