'Amazing' response from community after Eastville Park friends hit by burglary
FRIENDS of Eastville Park say their faith in humanity has been restored after the community rallied to help following the theft of more than 600 children's Christmas presents.
Volunteer Andrew Gee was shocked to discover thieves had ransacked a building at the bowling green in Eastville Park where 680 wrapped gifts were being stored, most of them costing just a few pounds.
They were being held there after the Friends' main annual fundraiser at the park, a Santa's grotto event, had to be cancelled due to high winds.
Devastated, the Friends posted a message on their Facebook page informing supporters of what had happened.
The news spread like wildfire, with the Friends receiving numerous requests from media across the country all wanting to report the particularly unfestive crime.
Within no time members were inundated with support. Presents started to arrive daily to replace the stolen gifts, with a truck load of toys turning up from a company based more than 100 miles away in Milton Keynes.
Andrew said: “We soon started to get messages from people saying they wanted to help. There were lots of individuals but there were also some toys companies who got in touch. We also had offers of help from groups including the Freemasons in Bristol.
“The response was just amazing. There was so much generosity out there and so many people who cared that we knew we'd be all right. We knew we would recover even if it took a long time.”
Then, someone suggested the Friends set up a GoFundMe internet page and donations quickly came flooding in.
So far more than £3,200 has been raised, smashing their target of £2,000.
Andrew said: “It was to cover the items stolen and to recoup some of the funds we would have raised had the grotto event gone ahead. It reached the target within days. The support and generosity of the local community has been overwhelming. One man on benefits sent £50. It's hard for it not to restore our faith in humanity. It's certainly turned a few of us to tears.”
Andrew said the incident has made the group more determined than ever to continue with their work.
He said: “We're still trying to get over the shock and sadness of it all but we have talked about holding an event in the Spring just to prove to ourselves we're not down and out. We're an active group and are fairly resilient so we will bounce back from it and come back even better.”
As well as the presents, thieves also made off numerous items which were left from the cancelled event including four hotplates, a warming plate, a room heater, 15 cartons of juice, 20 large bottles of cider, six bottles of mulled wine, 72 cans of soft drinks and disco lights.
The cost of replacing the items has been put at at least £1,700.
Andrew said he was the one who made the grim discovery when he went down to the pavilion on the morning of December 10.
“I opened the door and knew what had happened straight away," he said. "There were torn wrappers all over; the place was a mess.
“There were about 680 presents, but they were just small, inexpensive presents because we do the grotto on a budget to make sure it's affordable for everyone to come and visit Santa.
“The thieves cleared us out. We would have kept the presents to use next year after we realised there wasn't time to reschedule the cancelled event. We just didn't believe anyone could sink that low.”
A police spokesperson said: “We’re investigating a burglary in which a large quantity of presents, as well as food and cooking implements, were stolen from a building within Eastville Park, Bristol, sometime between 4pm on Monday, 9 December and 10am the following day.
“The incident was reported to us by the Friends of Eastville Park.
“We’d appeal for anyone who saw or heard any suspicious activity around the building between 9 and 10 December to contact us on 101. Please give the call handler the reference number 5219 284 526. We also want to hear from anyone who has information about the whereabouts of
the stolen presents.”
To make a donation to the appeal visit the GoFundMe page.