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SALT LAKE CITY — A charity that helps families and children affected by mental illness says thieves stole thousands of dollars of donated items.
Kathy Fairbanks with PJ's Forgotten Children says things like blankets, hygiene kits, clothes, toys, DVDs and games are missing.
"To come in and find things all over the floor, to find all of our DVDs and our game cases all gone, you don't just go to the store and replace those," she said.
The organization makes sure kids in our community who deal with mental illness in their home are not forgotten. It provides Christmas through its Adopt-A-Child program, Christmas stockings, and Santa bags filled with games, books, shoes, and a homemade quilt.
Fairbanks said the children are referred to as "forgotten" because they are often overlooked, as their parents suffer mental illness and are less likely to seek traditional means of help for themselves and their families.
"This just affects so many people," she said, referring to the theft.
Fairbanks showed KSL News shelves that are empty now, after the thieves loaded up eight grocery carts with donated goods, and headed out the back door. They made off with DVDs, games and Pillow Pets — which were a hot item among children. They also stole blankets and 25 pairs of blue jeans meant for teenage boys suffering from mental illness. They even swiped hygiene kits.
That was really odd," Fairbanks said, "so I guess they'll have clean hair. But that means there will be families we won't have enough for now."
This past Christmas, the charity helped 1,500 children and their families. In the fall, it helps hundreds of kids with back to school supplies. Volunteers start to stock gifts for next Christmas right after the holidays.
"You don't just go to the store and replace those," Fairbanks said. "People have donated them. It's not like we have money to just go out and buy and replace it all. Almost everything we get is donated."
The only way to replace the goods that were stolen is through more donations.
PJ's Forgotten Children is named for Patrick John Smith, who died suffering severe mental illness. In 1986, the Utah Alliance for the Mentally Ill (UAMI) was alarmed at the number of attempted suicides among the mentally ill because they couldn't provide Christmas for their children. The program they began in 1986 was eventually taken over in 1995 by PJ's Forgotten Children.
The charity hopes to make up the losses in the months ahead. "Somebody is not going to get what they need because it's gone," Fairbanks said.
There are no leads yet on the theft, but the organization has already received new donations. For more information on how you can help, visit pjsforgottenchildren.org