CHESTERFIELD — Jim Wehrly suspected that donations left at Habitat for Humanity’s ReSale Store were being stolen.
Wehrly, who manages the store, noticed a lawn sweeper and spreader left in the outdoor donation area on his way out one day. In a hurry, he left the items there.
When he returned the next day, they were gone.
He asked around to see whether a volunteer or employee might have brought the lawn equipment inside, but it seemed they had been taken by someone else.
“That’s when I made the determination that we’re going to have to move that camera,” Wehrly said of the store’s security system.
Using tape, he hung the Sonitrol security camera in the donation area.
In a span of about six weeks, three instances of theft have been caught on camera.
Thanks to that footage, tips from visitors to the store’s Facebook page and the work of the Chesterfield Police Department, five suspects have been identified and cited for misdemeanor theft.
In the most recent case, from Sept. 12, the camera captured clear images of suspects’ faces. James Sharpe, 41, Anderson; Renee Warring, 37, Anderson, and Carol Ancil-Thomas, 45, Anderson, were cited, according to Chesterfield Police Chief William Ingles.
In another case, a suspect held up items for an accomplice to see and approve from a waiting car. While the suspect’s face was obscured by a mask, the make and model of the car, which had an identifiable rust spot, were clear.
Tips from people who recognized the car led police to Travis, 41, and Melinda Spencer, 37, of Daleville, who were cited, Ingles said. The Spencers took plastic flowers and blankets, according to Chesterfield police, who recovered the items.
“I want people to know just because they’re donated items doesn’t make them fair game,” Police Chief Ingles noted. “Once they’re placed on Habitat’s property, it becomes (Habitat’s) property.”
In an effort to deter more episodes of theft, Wehrly has hung several signs, including newspaper clippings of those caught, to clarify that the donations are the property of Habitat for Humanity.
“We’re not trying to get people in trouble, we’re just trying to save our donations, because that’s our life stream for the store,” Wehrly explained.
The store is the main fundraiser for the local chapter of international Habitat for Humanity. The organization’s vision is “a world where everyone has a decent place to live.”
“It’s the life blood of what we do; it’s a major arm of the money that comes in,” Jan Miller, executive director, said of donated materials.
The store at 440 E. Main St. is open Wednesday through Saturday but leaves its donation area open 24/7.
“If you make it convenient for people, they’ll be more likely to give,” Miller explained. “It’s unfortunate that by keeping it open 24/7 we have to also look out for people stealing.”