MARTINEZ -- It's back to square one for Christmas for Everyone after burglars cut through a wall at the nonprofit's warehouse Feb. 25 and stole almost everything, including gifts, clothing and equipment needed to serve a meal to 2,000 to 3,000 people.
"All of our equipment that took years to accumulate is gone -- 68 tables, 100 chairs, all of our cooking pots that cost $100 each, the barrels that cost $45 each, and they were filled with brand new presents," founder Mary Breshears-Perez said. "They took a refrigerator, new stove, appliance dolly and flatbed dolly."
They also did additional damage to the warehouse itself. Christmas for Everyone suffered a break-in burglary four years ago, Breshears-Perez, but that pales in comparison to this.
Devastated by the uninsured loss of more than $50,000 worth of gifts, toys, tools, clothing, blankets, a pool table, furniture and equipment needed to produce the annual event, Breshears-Perez and her friend Diane Locke Heitkam began a quest to retrieve the stolen goods and find the thieves. So far they've located some items and have led police to at least one possible suspect.
Even so, the loss puts the 27th annual Christmas meal and gift event in jeopardy.
"It's shocking that people can be so callous; they had to know what it was for," said charity volunteer Cathy McRoberts. She manages food service, and oversees more than 400 other volunteers, at the annual event held at the New Hope International Church in Concord.
"What they left behind, they destroyed. I don't know what the future will hold for us," McRoberts added.
Since the break-in, Breshears-Perez and Locke Heitkam have worked to get things back.
At the warehouse, "The sheriff decided not to test for fingerprints, handed me a report form to fill out and told me to send it in," Breshears-Perez said.
The two women staked out the Solano Public Market, the long-standing flea market in North Concord, last weekend ¿and discovered a van loaded with some of the charity's belongings for sale on Sunday. After the two women detained the individual and van, Concord police arrived.
The van driver claimed the stolen property was purchased at the Alameda Flea Market and returned it to the charity. "It was only about $1,000 worth of gifts," Breshears-Perez noted.
But it was something. The amateur sleuths then canvassed the neighborhood near their warehouse and encountered a neighbor who knew about some potentially stolen merchandise. By March 5, Breshears-Perez and Heitkam had tracked someone to a specific address and reported it to a Sheriff's detective, also warning him about a pit bull at the home.
"I would have gone there myself, if not for the dog," Breshears-Perez said.
Sheriff's Public Information Officer Jimmy Lee said, "A suspect has been identified and there is an active investigation."
Meanwhile, the Christmas for Everyone nonprofit has come to a standstill. The nonprofit will lose its home of 15 years -- rent-free -- and seeks a new one.
"I have cried my buckets of tears," Breshears-Perez said. "I am doing clean up and putting one foot in front of another."
To provide information, donate or offer another warehouse may contact the nonprofit at www.christmasforeveryone.com or call 925-228-2233.
Reach Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292.