ANDOVER — The story calls to mind Dr. Seuss' Grinch who stole Christmas.
A young man believed to be in his 20s walked into Barron's Country Store on Thursday afternoon and stole a can of donations that were meant for children whose families could not afford to buy Christmas presents, according to a co-owner of the business.
Andover police arrested the suspect, identified as Jesse Bionelli, 26, 1392 Andover St., Tewksbury, within two hours of the theft – but the money was already gone, according to Brenda Himmer-Barron, who owns the store at Route 133 and Haggetts Pond Road along with her brother, Douglas Barron.
The alleged offense amounts to "stealing from kids," she said.
The money in a No. 10 can, which was placed on a napkin holder at the front counter, was being collected for the Central Catholic High School Christmas Project. Customers have been dropping donations into the can for the past several weeks, Himmer-Barron said.
Himmer-Barron said she didn't know how much money was in the can, but it was full. She and her daughter, Jill Himmer, had planned to bring the money to Central Catholic later that day.
Each year, Central Catholic students raise money to buy presents for needy children, said Jill Himmer, who graduated from the school in 2008 and now works as a nurse at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge.
"They will be shopping (for presents) this weekend," she said.
The school works with Catholic Charities in providing gifts for poor children, Himmer said.
Barron-Himmer said the theft happened at around 1:30 p.m. The clerk had just stepped away from the register to prepare a called-in food order when the can was stolen.
Using surveillance footage, the Andover police found the suspect, she said. He is charged with larceny from a building. He is being held at Middleton House of Correction and is expected to be arraigned in Lawrence District Court Friday.
Barron-Himmer and her daughter suggested that anyone who wishes to make a donation to make up for the money that was stolen should contact Central Catholic High School or Catholic Charities. They have collected donations for the Central Catholic Christmas Project for nearly 10 years.
They have also made their counter space available for other charitable causes, including the Trauma Intervention Program and the Bread and Roses soup kitchen in Lawrence.
"The customers are the ones who deserve the credit," Barron-Himmer said. Her great-grandfather, William Barron, founded the store in 1931.