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Thrift store "steals" take on new meaning as hundreds of dollars of items are stolen from SAMA porch


What happens to the town of Stockton when items left on the porch of the Stockton Area Ministerial Alliance (SAMA) are taken? The community loses. SAMA is staffed with volunteers who work hours and hours sorting and pricing items. They lift heavy furniture; they sort clothing; they organize and separate. All work is volunteer; each year, thousands of dollars go back into the Stockton community in several ways. Yet, some people who could get a tremendous bargain from walking inside the store and paying a pittance of what it is worth never get that opportunity. And an incalculable amount of money does not go back into the community. Why? Because others have stolen it.

People leave items on the front porch of SAMA each weekend and during the hours when SAMA is closed. Joan Earhart, the director, said SAMA appreciates all the donated items. This is how thousands of dollars go back into the area to help those in need. But she is encouraging people to donate during store hours if possible. The staff will help unload all the items and ensure they are safely stored.

According to employees, people who take items left on the porch are bold. As a Cedar County Republican reporter came to SAMA for an interview last week, a man in a pickup truck had just filled up the back of his vehicle and sped away, according to Earhart. People have even taken things as workers are trying to get them inside despite cameras, posted signs, and even pictures taken by employees.

"One hundred percent of our proceeds go back into the community. I feel they are stealing from the community," Earhart said.

The amount of money lost from theft is incalculable. As a CCR reporter occasionally watched the porch this weekend, people brought items to donate. Then they were missing a short time later. The thefts happened far more than once during the weekend. Trucks would pull in with trailers; cars would pull through. Some honest people were looking, but if they hoped to return this week and purchase an item sitting outside, they may not find it inside. Some of the donations simply disappeared.

Theft doesn't just happen on the weekend. It occurs nearly anytime donations are left outside.

Sometimes, Earhart said, they open bags and leave clothes and items they don't want scattered everywhere.

Most likely, some people taking from the porch resell stolen items. Others take what they want and leave the rest.

In addition, Earhart said disgusting things have been left on the porch while they were closed, and the workers have no idea why people would do such things. One hot summer day, a giant fish was left to rot on the porch. Another time, cat litter was left unscooped. Once, stove ashes were scattered over the porch. And the list goes on.

The repetitive stealing creates a problem. The hesitancy to prosecute comes from a heart to help, not hurt people. Ministerial groups, understandably, want to refrain from bringing legal charges or taking action through courts.

Jacob Haught, SAMA president, said, "The Stockton Area Ministerial Alliance is aware of the problem of people taking donated items off the porch to our building. The board has had several discussions on what to do about this issue and is working alongside our amazing volunteers at the thrift store to come up with better solutions. Although we have increased security around the building, we do not have the ability to keep all the donated items safe that are dropped off at the building after hours."

Haught also encourages people to drop off items between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

"We also can make arrangements if you have bigger items you would like to donate to SAMA. You can do so by calling the thrift store at 417-955-3492 or by talking to any of the area churches who are affiliated with SAMA," Haught said. "SAMA is very thankful to the Stockton community for donating to our thrift store, and we look forward to partnering with you in 2024."