Flood of donations after toy theft means 1,600 underprivileged San Antonio kids get toys instead of 60

Friday theft before toy distribution to kids at Alazan Apache Court spurred many San Antonians to give

San Antonians come to the rescue after local 'Grinches' steal Christmas toys

SAN ANTONIO – As cars snaked past the San Antonio Housing Authority office Wednesday to be loaded with presents, it capped off a San Antonio holiday story fit for a movie.

“It’s the classic story of how the Grinch stole Christmas and Whoville. We became Whoville, or the North Pole -- whatever,” said SAHA Director of Community Development Initiatives Joel Tabar with a chuckle.

The piles of toys handed out to children living in SAHA public housing properties were there, ironically enough, because of a theft, which ignited the city’s generosity in a big way. After thieves took toys from an event meant to benefit 60 kids at the Alazan Apache Courts, a flood of donations from churches, private companies and other organizations allowed SAHA to provide toys to 1,600 children from across its public housing properties -- far more than the original plan.

“You had soccer moms pulling up with truckloads full of gifts, telling us that they reached out to their friends and family for money to buy these gifts for the public housing children,” Tabar said of a Sunday afternoon toy drive.

The donations included $17,000 in monetary contributions, he said, and SAHA was able to invite families at all of its public housing properties to register to get toys for their kids. Eventually, Tabar said, they had to cut it off, but each child registered received two or three toys.

The theft that spurred the spree of generosity happened Friday night. SAHA officials say half of the toys collected for children at the Alazan Apache Courts were stolen the evening before they were supposed to be distributed.

SAHA spokesman Michael Reyes said that the original toy distribution event was sponsored by Sammy Nieto, a recent retiree of Valero Energy. Valero had put on an annual holiday event for 24 years at Alazan Apache Courts.

Looking over Wednesday’s distribution event, Nieto called it “a blessing.”

“The character of the city is what happened here,” Nieto said.

He didn’t appear to hold a grudge against the thieves, either. As of Wednesday afternoon, the suspect had not been arrested, police confirmed.

“You took away something that really doesn’t belong to you. You did a big mistake, and I hope you learn from this,” Nieto said.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.