Arrest in food pantry theft; community pitches in

Marietta police arrested one suspect in connection with the theft of food and other items from the Gospel Mission Food Pantry and recovered a number of stolen items on Friday, even as community members were already hard at work restocking the shelves.

“The community has responded overwhelmingly,” said Candy Waite, who operates the pantry in the Harmar Community Center and came in Thursday morning to find almost all the food – between $4,000 and $6,000 worth – gone from its shelves.

“Yesterday I was stunned. I was numb,” she said. “Then today my spirit is renewed, and I’m going forward.”

Marietta Police Capt. Jeff Waite, Candy’s husband, said the investigation led officers to an apartment at 328 1/2 Gilman Ave. Friday afternoon, above the Beauty Barn and just a few blocks from the pantry at 309 Lancaster St.

A male and a female were in the apartment when police arrived and the man, Christopher Lent, 26, a resident of the apartment, was arrested on a charge of complicity to breaking and entering, a fifth-degree felony.

The investigation is continuing, Capt Waite said, and police are seeking additional suspects.

“I think more arrests are imminent,” he said.

Around 4:45 p.m. Friday, officers were carrying boxes of food and other items out of the upstairs apartment, loading it into a cruiser before taking it back to the pantry, where the items were to be inventoried. Officers said the items had been photographed in the apartment and they did not need to take them back to the station.

“I’m just totally jazzed that they found this stuff,” said Bill White, whose digital marketing firm Offenberger and White is located behind the apartment on Fort Street. “I mean, who would knock off a food pantry?”

News of the crime surprised many in the community, with many residents donating money and food to help the pantry recover.

Marietta resident Lynette Seevers, 36, was shopping at Sam’s Club Thursday after learning about the theft.

“I told my husband, ‘I think we’re going to pick up a few extra things,'” she said.

On Friday, she and her 11-year-old daughter Haleigh brought those items to the Gospel Mission and were thanked with hugs from Candy Waite.

“I feel bad for the people that donated all that money and the people that need it,” said Haleigh, who is a regular at the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County, which is also located in the community center and from which some items were also stolen.

Members of the Harmar Girl Scouts manned both doors to the Marietta Walmart Friday afternoon to collect money and food for the pantry. The children, who have held food drives for the pantry before, said they were excited to help, but dismayed at what happened.

“I can’t believe somebody would rob it,” said Emily Ottney, 9.

“All we can hope is it was someone who needed the food,” 11-year-old Ashley Stewart added.

“They could have just walked in and said, ‘I need some food,'” Ottney pointed out.

Depositing several bags in the Scouts’ cart was Graysville resident Nikolle Dean, 30.

“(The pantry) needs it. And it’s a shame what happened,” she said. “We have to help each other.”

Waterford resident Tammy Perine, 34, a friend of Candy Waite’s, said she didn’t realize the Girl Scouts would be there when she headed to Walmart to collect items. They quickly joined forces, with girls loading and sorting the donations on a trailer attached to Perine’s vehicle.

“They have been busting their tail ends,” Perine said. “They’ve just been bringing cartload after cartload.”

More food than Perine’s trailer could hold was collected, said troop leader Nikki Burchett. The Scouts also collected nearly $2,000 in cash and check donations, she said.

Perine said there was also a collection being done at the Waterford IGA.

Elsewhere, 6-year-old Lowell resident Holtyn Hill wasn’t going to stand by and let the pantry’s shelves stay empty either after his mother, Emily Hall, told him what had happened.

“He says, ‘That is not nice. … We need to do something,'” said Hall, 32.

“He felt so bad, and I thought, ‘You’re right, buddy. We need to do something,” she said.

Hall and her husband are members of the Oak Grove Volunteer Fire Department. Thanks to Holtyn’s resolve, a food drive will be held at the station there from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Donations started coming in Thursday, and volunteers joined Candy Waite at the pantry Friday to sort donations and help restock. So did people in need.

“I had a lady that (came) into the food pantry today … that said she hadn’t eaten in four days,” Candy Waite said.

They were able to give her food from the donations that had already come in. And the pantry “will be up and running Wednesday” for normal distribution from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Candy Waite said.

Marietta resident Jan Springer, 69, a regular volunteer at the pantry, said she was pleased, but not surprised, that police had someone in custody.

“I had no doubt that they’d find them quickly,” she said.

The Harmar neighborhood sticks together, Springer said.

“This food pantry is something wonderful, and they’re not going to let it be ruined,” she said.