VIDEOS — Nonprofit sharing surveillance footage in an effort to stop theft

Published 12:40 am Friday, March 3, 2023

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Officials with the United Board of Missions are hoping the sharing of surveillance videos on social media curbs the thefts of donations that have plagued the organization for years. 

“It happens every night,” said Executive Director Debbie Perkins. “Only 10 percent of the generous donations dropped off overnight actually come in our doors.” 

The theft is occurring at the UMB office on 9th Avenue in Port Arthur and Mission’s Attic in Groves. The latter is a resale shop where donations are sold at an extremely discounted price, in turn raising money for the nonprofit that assists those in need with food, clothing and other items. 

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“The general consensus seems to be ‘you can’t really do anything to me,’ and that’s not the case,” said Program Director Jay Keith. “They can be charged with criminal trespass and theft.”

Although, Perkins said, the latter is more difficult as often times the items stolen are in bags, making the monetary value of what was taken impossible to determine. 

Reviewing surveillance video installed at both locations was eye-opening. Perkins said she and Keith studied one full sequence of videos from one night and caught the bin on 9th Avenue fully depleted three separate times. 

“This diminishes the supply available to those who need it,” she said. “Both the proceeds from the sales at Mission’s Attic and donations that help are at risk of being depleted due to the lowered monetary donations from churches and the public.”

And while UMB began struggling with donations during the pandemic, the last three to four months have progressively gotten worse. 

Signs posted at both buildings encourage those donating to do so during the day, but Perkins said she does not want to discourage anyone from donating by dropping items off outside of business hours. 

“I understand it’s easier when people are going to and from work,” she said. “We don’t want to stop donations, just plea to the public for help.”

A video posted this week of a woman caught stealing multiple times from Mission’s Attic in Groves generated a potential identification within 24 hours. 

“We’ve had two people identified,” Keith said. “One person who got in touch was on camera and asked if we could remove the video because she has family and a small business.” 

Keith said the woman claimed she was taking the items to help homeless people; however, she was caught on camera twice at each location taking everything in the donation bins. 

“She has guaranteed us she will not come back and we will never see her again,” he said. “I encouraged her to come learn what our program was about. And if she knows people in need, send them to us. That’s why our program exists.” 

Mission’s Attic is already short on inventory, he said. Continued theft will only worsen the problem. 

“Even with special patrol from the police departments, we’re not able to catch them in the act,” Perkins said. “Hopefully with the videos, good citizens will step up and identify them.”