OXNARD — Thieves didn't exactly steal Christmas on Tuesday, just a familiar symbol of it.
Seven new bell-ringer jackets disappeared from the Salvation Army office in Oxnard within minutes of being delivered to a crowded lobby at 11 a.m.
The annual countywide red-kettle drive--which nets more than $130,000 from Ventura County residents and helps about 1,350 families--will begin next week. Oxnard-Port Hueneme Salvation Army officials said they will determine today whether they have enough coats in good condition to outfit their volunteers or will need to order more.
Of greater concern, however, is that the thief or thieves who stole the coats could trade on the Salvation Army name to scam money from the public.
"If someone is dishonest enough to take the box, they may be dishonest enough to use the jackets for their advantage," said Lt. Sherryle Morasky of the Oxnard-Port Hueneme Salvation Army Corps.
"Anyone who could be using our jackets could be rude, demanding or pushy, but that's not our way," Morasky said. "We thank people, greet people, wish them a 'Merry Christmas' and give them the opportunity to help other people. People see the Salvation Army as a part of Christmas."
Traditional Salvation Army jackets are red Windbreakers with the corps' crest printed in white. The stolen jackets were also red, but the crest was a patch sewn onto the material.
A receptionist signed for the box of jackets about 11 a.m. Tuesday, but by the time she walked through a hallway to the lobby to pick it up, the parcel was gone, officials said. The lobby was crowded with people picking up brown-bag lunches.
Morasky warned that the Salvation Army does not solicit door-to-door. Anyone who is contacted by a door-to-door solicitor wearing a red Salvation Army jacket is asked to call the local police department.
"We're afraid we'll really have problems this year because people might be leery about giving," Morasky said. "We want people to know that the Salvation Army name remains a name to be trusted. We don't want people to lose faith, because the Salvation Army is out there to help the community."
Oxnard and Port Hueneme kettle volunteers will begin ringing their bells in front of stores Monday. About 17 to 20 volunteers per day will be posted at various retail locations.
Last year, the Oxnard-Port Hueneme Salvation Army took in $50,000 from the kettle drive to give Christmas food baskets and presents to 500 families.
Salvation Army bell ringers in about 30 locations in the rest of Ventura County will begin Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving.
The kettle contribution drive will end Dec. 23. Most Salvation Army volunteers do not conduct kettle drives on Sundays.
"If you see someone with a red pail they're just holding in their hands, don't give money," said Capt. Rene Beauchamp of the Ventura Salvation Army Corps.
Legitimate Salvation Army volunteers will be posted in front of stores next to red metal kettles hooked to black iron stands. Attached to each stand is a 2-foot-by-1-foot placard proclaiming in red and green letters: "Sharing Is Caring. Thank You. God Bless You." The Salvation Army shield and a holly border also adorn the white sign.
"It's pretty unique," Morasky said. "You can't get these stands and placards anywhere else."
This year, in Oxnard and Port Hueneme, bell ringers will also wear plastic name tags with a Salvation Army business card on it. Volunteers throughout the county also carry business cards.