A trio of Grinches stole someone’s holiday cheer when they lifted a Salvation Army kettle from a bell ringer outside a Rock Hill grocery store.
Three men in a white SUV, possibly a Jeep, pulled up to where Terry Chisolm was ringing the donation bell in front of the Bi-Lo grocery store in the 1400 block of East Main Street around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Two men got out of the vehicle, and one placed some money into the kettle. He then started talking to Chisolm, according to a Rock Hill Police report, and positioned himself so her back was turned to the kettle while the second man lifted the kettle and took off across the parking lot.
“He came up and put $2 in there, then said, ‘Excuse me, how can I get a job with the Salvation Army?’ ” Chisolm said. “Then the other fellow came up very quiet and still while he kept my attention.”
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The first man then got back into the SUV and drove across the parking lot to pick up their fleeing accomplice. Several shoppers who saw what was happening gave chase, but weren’t able to catch up with the man. Chisolm couldn’t give a description of the person inside the vehicle, but she said the suspects who got out of the vehicle were between the ages of 18 and 30.
“The guy who got behind me, all I’d seen was a green baseball cap,” Chisolm said. “But the guy I was talking to, I’d recognize him today. He was about 5-foot-5, brown eyes, and had curly hair parted in the middle like Shirley Temple.”
In more than four years as commanding officer of the Salvation Army in York, Chester and Lancaster counties, Maj. John Edmonds said this is the first time he can recall a kettle being stolen.
But the Salvation Army knows its volunteers are tempting targets, he said, so they get training on how to deal with thieves.
“We tell them if they ever feel uncomfortable or threatened, or someone tries to take the kettle, to just let them have it,” Edmonds said. “It’s not worth it to risk their lives.”
The experience didn’t deter Chisolm from being back outside the Bi-Lo on Thursday to ring the bell and try to replace those stolen funds. This is her first Christmas collecting money for the Salvation Army, and she only started setting up the kettle at various locations around town the day before Thanksgiving – just a week before she was robbed.
Despite warnings from police and her supervisors that the men who stole her kettle might try the same trick again, Chisolm promised to stay on the job for the next two weeks – working every afternoon after she finishes her morning shift at a Jack in the Box restaurant.
“I do not fear men,” she said. “I have a relationship with Jesus... I’m a soldier and I know I had the angels’ arms around me protecting me from harm.”
Based on the location and time of day, the Salvation Army estimates the stolen kettle held about $150.
The holiday season is one of the biggest fundraising periods for the Salvation Army. The money in the kettle could have gone to buy Christmas presents for needy families, but the organization depends on December donations to carry their charitable activities all the way through March.
Money given to bell ringers can go to support rent or mortgage payments to keep families in their homes, or put food on the table for those who need it.
“One hundred and fifty dollars could feed several families,” Edmonds said.
Rock Hill police are investigating the theft. Police spokesman Mark Bollinger said investigators were attempting to pull video from a nearby security camera to see if the thieves could be identified.
Back at her post with her kettle, Chisolm said she was there to help children in need this season. But in her own way, she hopes the stolen funds will help the men who took it.
“I pray that they needed it and will put it to good use,” she said. “If he’d just asked me for some money, I probably would have given it to him.”