FARMINGTON – The community has come together to turn a setback into a victory by raising about $30,000, and donating hundreds of toys and items of clothing to the Farmington Salvation Army after its van full of toys was stolen last week.
Volunteers and members of the Salvation Army Farmington Community Center were busy at work Monday morning distributing gifts to children in need as part of the organization’s Angel Tree program.
About 20 to 25 volunteers filled the former thrift store run by the organization, sifting through bags of gifts for children to hand out to vehicles idling in the alley behind the store.
It was about a week ago that a Toyota minivan belonging to the organization and containing about $6,000 worth of gifts was stolen from the Walmart at 4600 E. Main in Farmington.
The Farmington Police Department issued an arrest warrant for 37-year-old Anthony Crespin in connection with the vehicle theft.
Farmington police spokesperson Nicole Brown told The Daily Times the van was found in Sandoval County, but the toys were gone. Brown said law enforcement officials are still searching for Crespin.
The suspect was helping a Salvation Army employee shop for the toys before allegedly stealing the vehicle.
Salvation Army Farmington Corps Officer Lt. Christopher Rockwell told The Daily Times that the organization was overwhelmed by the community’s response to ensure children in the area have a merry Christmas.
He estimated the nonprofit organization received 500 to 600 toys, 400 to 500 pieces of clothing and approximately $30,000 in cash donations.
Rockwell added that the response demonstrates that people in the community have a big heart.
“God has a way of taking tragedies and turning them into blessings,” Rockwell said. “That’s what he’s done here and the people have responded amazingly.”
Rockwell said the Angel Tree program typically serves 350 area kids a year. He believes the Salvation Army could possibly help 500 to 600 children this year with the number of toys donated.
Heidi Palacio and her daughter Jacqueline Palacio were volunteering Monday, dressed as elves as they helped get bags of gifts to those in need.
Heidi told The Daily Times the van theft was a tragic event, but she was happy to see how the community responded.
“It was a tragic thing that happened, but, through this, we have seen how powerful, caring and loyal the community is,” she said.
The Farmington Salvation Army is devising ways to distribute the remaining gifts it has received. Rockwell shared one idea of possibly reaching out to Navajo chapter houses in the area to donate the toys, but he was still finalizing plans Monday.