Shelter, food pantry burglarized twice around holiday

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Volunteers at a Milwaukee-area shelter and food pantry have been busy -- after the shelter was burglarized not once, but twice around the Christmas holiday.

Each bag packed at Despensa de la Paz feeds a needy Milwaukee family for four days. Hundreds of bags are handed out every week -- but the charitable spirit felt usually at the south side pantry was dampened on Saturday morning, December 28th.

"We walked in to like, tissue paper and gift wrapping everywhere," Catherine Draeger said.

Just two hours before their annual children's Christmas party, staff discovered their donated gifts had been ransacked.

"It's like they rummaged through all the gifts to find what they wanted," Draeger said.

About 100 gifts were ripped from their packages.

"There were basketballs, coloring books, hats and gloves, footballs. My first reaction was, we are not going to disappoint the kids," Draeger said.

With 150 families about to arrive, there was no time to fundraise for new gifts -- but something remarkable happened.

"It was a miracle. It was a miracle right on Christmas," Andre Pirtle said.

A few businesses the pantry had partnered with for the children's Christmas party still had some gifts to drop off. When they arrived, each brought dozens more than they'd promised.

"We didn't have a chance to tell anybody. We couldn't make phone calls. It just happened. We not only go all of our presents back, but we got more," Pirtle said.

The event was a success, but on Monday morning came another setback.

"They didn't take a lot of stuff the second time, but they tried to destroy a lot," Draeger said.

Thieves broke in yet again, stealing laptops and walkie talkies. Donations were knocked from the shelves.

"They literally took soy sauce that was here, they found here, salt that they found here and dumped it over everything," Draeger said.

It took 25 volunteers six hours to clean up the mess.

"If I was to take anything away from this whole thing, the show must go on," Pirtle said.

The shelter says if there's a silver lining here, it's that they learned just how generous their sponsors and volunteers really are. They have upgraded security, and hope they are finished cleaning up after thieves.