UPDATED 12/20/11 – 4:20 p.m.
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. (CBS) — An anonymous donor helped save Christmas for the local Toys for Tots charity on Tuesday, after news a former volunteer embezzled $25,000 and left Christmas in jeopardy for many disadvantaged children.
The charity collects donations at its annual Western Avenue motorcycle rally, and at dropoff centers. But it also makes a bulk purchase of 20,000 additional toys, which this year was almost made impossible by the embezzlement.
Toys for Tots Chicagoland President George Fortier says the phones didn’t stop ringing after the public learned about the situation.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports
“People have been coming here, dropping off toys and just heard about us and just went to the store and came here,” he said. “It’s amazing. … It will make them hopefully have a Christmas this year.”
An anonymous donor came in Tuesday with a $25,000 check to cover the loss and Chicago-based Groupon later matched that donation.
Donations can still be made to Toys for Tots at their warehouse at 8900 S. Odell Av. in Bridgeview.
Fortier says the thief had access to the charity’s Web site, and was committing the crime electronically.
“On our Web site, you’re able to buy some of this stuff, and I guess somewhere through the line, people were getting their product, and we were getting our money, but I guess we weren’t getting the money,” Fortier told WBBM Newsradio. “I’m kind of sore.”
At a board meeting Tuesday night, the charity will decide how to spend the $12,000 that remains — either by spending less on each child than usual but take care of the same number of kids, or by spending the same amount, but giving fewer needy kids toys.
The embezzlement was discovered by Toys for Tots and Bridgeview police in April. Before that, the thefts had been going undetected for three years, Fortier said.
“The low of the low – you’re taking advantage of someone who is disadvantaged,” Fortier said.
No criminal charges have been filed, but donations have been pouring in since the word got out.
“You have to come in, because to see that expression on a child’s face when they receive that toy, and they don’t have much for Christmas, it just tears you up inside,” said donor Joseph Zeug.
Fortier says the group spends $20,000 its the motorcycle parade alone. Chicagoland Toys for Tots collects toys that are distributed each year by the U.S. Marine Corps.