Food pantry reopens fully stocked after theft

MARIETTA – The Gospel Mission food pantry opened its doors Wednesday stocked with more food than it had before thieves virtually emptied the shelves a week ago.

“We have more to offer the people,” said Candy Waite, who operates the pantry at the Harmar Community Center on Lancaster Street with her husband, Marietta Police Capt. Jeff Waite. “And that brings so much joy to me.”

The community responded to the thefts with financial donations of more than $5,000, plus more food than Candy Waite had a tally for on Wednesday. Food stolen from the pantry was recovered, but she said most of it couldn’t be used because it had already been opened by the pantry and she couldn’t take the chance any of it had been tampered with.

Meanwhile, four people have been arrested in connection with the theft which took place overnight June 26 and 27, Capt. Waite said. Another individual has confessed, and charges against that suspect will be presented to a grand jury, he said.

“We’ve got five down, and there’s probably more to come,” Capt. Waite said.

The most recent apprehension came Tuesday evening, when William J. Mitchell, 28, of 516 Smith St., Marietta, was arrested on a fifth-degree felony count of breaking and entering and misdemeanor charges of obstructing official business and failure to report a crime. According to a statement of facts from the Marietta Police Department, officers questioned Mitchell, who lives alongside the community center, on June 27, the day the thefts were discovered.

“He lives within just a few feet from the entrance,” Marietta Police Sgt. Greg Nohe said. “Their residence faces that area.”

At the time, the statement says, Mitchell denied any involvement, but a witness reported seeing him enter the building from 120 Wood St. multiple times that night, along with other individuals. Questioned again, Mitchell reportedly admitted holding the door while others carried stolen items to his property.

Bond was set Wednesday for Mitchell at $6,500, and he remained in custody at the Washington County Jail Wednesday afternoon. Also there are Eric Sciance, 18, of 114 Sunset Drive, Marietta, who was arrested Saturday on a fifth-degree felony charge of breaking and entering, on $5,000 bond and Christopher Lent, 26, of 328 1/2 Gilman Ave., Marietta, arrested Friday after food and other items taken from the center were found in his apartment. Lent is also charged with fifth-degree felony complicity to breaking and entering and is being held without bond on a probation violation.

A 16-year-old suspect was also arrested Friday, Jeff Waite said. His name was not released because he is a juvenile.

At the Gospel Mission Wednesday, there were smiles, hugs and plenty of provisions to go around, a contrast to the situation last week after the thefts were discovered.

“We cried and we prayed,” Jerry Joyce said of the Williamstown resident she serves as a home health aide and brings food from the pantry. “(But) we knew with God and Candy that everything would be fine.”

The latter sentiment was echoed by a number of those who regularly receive assistance from the pantry.

“I know Candy … even if it wasn’t very much, she would have something for people,” said Joanna Edgell, 61, of Marietta.

That wasn’t an issue though, as residents, businesses and community groups stepped up to replace what had been lost.

Harmar Girl Scouts collected food and money at Walmart Friday afternoon, while other volunteers did the same at Sponey’s IGA in Beverly. Six-year-old Lowell resident Holtyn Hill told his parents the family should do something to help the pantry and they did, organizing a food drive at the Oak Grove Volunteer Fire Department Sunday.

“It was a fire truck and two trucks full of food,” Candy Waite said. “The community has just jumped in to put food back into this food pantry.”

Other individuals brought food and cash donations to the pantry, and Walmart stores in the area donated $4,000 in shopping cards.

Being close to the first of the month, when many people receive food assistance and other benefits, Wednesday was a slow day for the pantry, Candy Waite said. Even so, 50 people were signed up for food within an hour of it opening at 10 a.m.

The Rev. Felix Burroughs, a retired minister who recently moved to Marietta and volunteers at the pantry, said the Gospel Mission provides a vital service to people in need and would have provided that service to the very individuals who stole the food.

“I thought it was paradoxical,” Burroughs said. “They came in and took what they could have walked in and gotten for free.”

Shirley Thompson, 53, of Marietta, said she visits the pantry about every three months, bringing donations when she can and picking up things she can’t purchase with food assistance, like cleaning supplies.

“I can get clothes here that I can’t afford,” she said. “I even bring in things at times to give them.”