$6,000 worth of toys for homeless children stolen from YWCA

SEATTLE -- What should be an open door to opportunity instead brought Nichelle Hilton to tears.

"I'm totally numb," Hilton said, wiping tears from her face. "I'm in total disbelief that someone would take toys before Christmas from homeless children. I mean, who does that?"

Hilton, a community resource coordinator at the YWCA in Seattle's Central District, said an employee arrived at the facility Monday morning to find a shelter door ajar. Inside, 300 toys intended for homeless kids had been stolen; the boxes the toys were stored in had been ripped apart. A single toy -- a lone bag bearing the Hello Kitty logo -- was the only item that remained.

"Where are these toys? Are the people who stole these toys on a corner trying to sell Easy Bake Ovens?" Hilton asked. "These families count on that. I feel very responsible making sure everybody has a great Christmas."

Staff at the Cherry Street nonprofit purchased the toys last week with about $6,200 donated through Rick's Toys for Kids Foundation, Hilton said. The toys were stored in an empty unit at the shelter, which was undergoing renovations. Hilton wonders whether a construction worker didn't completely close the unit's door on Friday or if thieves simply broke in.

"Who would take from kids? What is going on in the world today?" asked Jeanice Hardy, a facility director who works with kids and families receiving the toys. "What are they going to think? Will they have Christmas?"

YWCA employees spent Monday scouring hours of surveillance video taken over the weekend, but as of Monday night, hadn't found any clues as to who might have stolen the toys. Police are also investigating.

Hilton, meantime, wondered how the organization was going to collect enough toys to hand out by next Monday, which is when the kids are scheduled to celebrate Christmas.

"How do you say that to a 4-year-old, that 'Santa couldn't find you?"' Hilton asked. "So I want to make sure Santa finds them."

The YWCA shelter, located at 2820 E. Cherry St., is accepting toys for children ages 0 to 19, until Dec. 21 at noon.