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Grinches robbing US poor at Christmas

Around the United States, grinches have been busy stealing the spirit of Christmas as they stage a spate of robberies targeting organizations set up to help the needy.

"Salvation Army bell-ringer stands outside a major department store seeking donations in McLean, Virginia, December 23. Around the United States, grinches have been busy stealing the spirit of Christmas as they stage a spate of robberies targeting organizations set up to help the needy."

In the Washington suburb of Gaithersburg, a Goodwill charity shop was robbed twice in a fortnight, the most recent hold-up coming a week ago.

"It's very sad that someone would rob a charitable agency whose sole purpose is to provide job training to people who need work in a very difficult economy," Brendan Hurley, vice president of communications for Goodwill, told AFP.

"To take from those people who have little and need much for your own selfish gain is extremely sad," he said.

In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, around two weeks ago, more than 1,000 dollars' worth of donated toys, bikes, and dolls that had been collected by a motorcyclists' rights group to give to poor kids were stolen from a storage shed, the bikers said on their website.

Thieves have also struck at charities' toy depots in Kansas, Illinois, and New York, where the Salvation Army of Ithaca and Tompkins County had hundreds of toys stolen just weeks before Christmas.

On Tuesday, a thief ran off with a Red Kettle containing up to 500 dollars outside a Wal-Mart store in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a report on a local television station's website said.

"If there was really a legitimate need and the person needed the money, if they came to the Salvation Army, we would have given it to them. For them to steal the kettle is very sad," Salvation Army spokesman Michael Rojas told WAFF television.

Hurley said the same of the man who police suspect is behind both robberies of the Gaithersburg Goodwill store.

"If this individual had come to Goodwill and asked for help, we'd have provided it. If he had knocked on our door and asked, we'd have been only too willing to help," Hurley said.

"There are a lot of people out there who are struggling in this economy, having a hard time finding employment, and some will turn to desperate measures. But robbing anyone, much less a charity, is not the solution," he said.

Last month in Ohio, a man stole a Salvation Army Red Kettle for reasons other than the economy: he said he hated Christmas.

As the man pushed a Salvation Army bell-ringer to the ground and stole her kettle containing several hundred dollars, he reportedly said: "I can't stand your bell-ringing. I hate Christmas."

"A volunteer prepares meals for homeless people at the Salvation Army November 26 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Around the United States, grinches have been busy stealing the spirit of Christmas as they stage a spate of robberies targeting organizations set up to help the needy."

The kettle was found empty a day later. The Salvation Army estimates it held between 500 and 700 dollars.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, thieves stole 13 Red Kettles containing an estimated 4,000 dollars from a Salvation Army depot two weeks ago.

The Salvation Army uses money collected in its red kettles -- either those held by bell-ringers or virtual ones on the Internet -- to help four million needy Americans every Christmas and tens of millions more each year.

Red Kettle street collections are down nine percent this year compared to last, while demand for aid is up 80 percent in some parts of the United States, said Salvation Army spokeswoman Jennifer Byrd.

But some of the robbery stories have had silver linings.

People were so moved when they heard the stories of toys for underprivileged children being stolen that they donated even more than the South Carolina bikers or other charities had in the first place.

And the Charlotte division of the Salvation Army has received more than two-and-a-half times the money in the 13 kettles stolen from the depot, including 6,000 dollars from the local fire brigade.

"You see the Salvation Army out every year, scraping the bottom of the barrel to help those in need. We wanted to give them an extra push," John Foster, president of the Charlotte Fire Fighters Association, said in a local newspaper.

Even Santa Claus was blaming the economy when he -- or a bad guy dressed as the jolly bearded man who brings gifts to children around the world -- robbed a bank in Tennessee Wednesday.

A witness cited on local television said the robber was jovial and told the cashier he needed money to pay his elves.

Santa got away in a grey car, not a sled pulled by reindeer. Police are still looking for him.