A Grinch-inspired heist almost ruined Christmas for a Powell Boy Scout troop.
But the day was saved by generous Powell residents with remarkable imaginations.
On Sunday morning, Scoutmaster Donny Peterson realized something was amiss at the American Legion, where the troop was selling Christmas trees as part of its annual fundraising campaign.
“We noticed a couple of things about the lot, like the bulbs had been pulled out of the strand of lights that we have running up there,” he said. “All of the tall trees were knocked over, and there was a lot of room in the short section. And so the scouts and myself all took turns and counted like, five times, and each time we came up exactly 20 (trees) short.”
At $55 per tree, that was a loss of $1,100 – quite a hit for the nonprofit organization, which was counting on that money to send Scouts to leadership training and to re-charter the group.
Police Chief Roy Eckerdt told Cowboy State Daily that Christmas tree theft is rare in Powell.
“In my tenure here, this is the first time we’ve had a scenario like this,” he said. “The holiday season always sees an increase in property crime and thefts. Yes, we’re in Wyoming, and we’re a wonderful place, but most of our crimes are crimes of opportunity.”
It didn’t take long before word of the thefts got out on social media and the people of Powell began making trips to the lot to buy trees that, well, didn’t exactly exist.
“Two people made Facebook posts,” Peterson said. “Just, you know, ‘If you see something, say something.’ And our wonderful community had turned it into, ‘Let’s help these guys.’ Pretty shortly after the policeman left and we’re figuring out how we’re going to recoup the losses, people started showing up and wanting to buy ‘invisible trees.’”
As of Wednesday evening, Peterson said, donations from the community had more than made up for the lost trees.
“People still show up where I work and still give me checks,” Peterson said. “Even tonight, we haven’t added up what we’ve gotten tonight yet, but people are still buying invisible trees.”
Over $2,000 had been donated as of Wednesday evening, according to Peterson, which is a big boost to the organization that currently boasts 14 scouts taking advantage of the program to learn about leadership and citizenship skills, self-confidence and ethics, according to the troop’s charter.
Chief Eckerdt said the outpouring of support from local residents is typical for Park County.
“Park County, Wyoming, as a whole has always come together for people when they’re in need,” he said, “even at a time when there’s a lot of need, stress and strain and emotion in our communities with everything else we have going on. So it’s a sense of pride in our community when you see them step up and help out somebody like the Boy Scouts, to come through for them. That’s a humbling sight to see.”
Eckerdt added that the department is continuing to investigate the thefts.
“We are seeking information at this at this point,” he said. “We know the last time that (the trees) were accounted for was 7 p.m. Saturday night, so it happened between 7 p.m. Saturday night at 11 a.m. Sunday morning. That’s the timeframe, if anybody may have information to assist the investigation.”
For Peterson and the Boy Scouts, the dark cloud that descended on Sunday has turned out to have a remarkably shiny silver lining.
“The dark cloud is gone,” he said. “You know, we just feel bad for the people that took the trees. It was a bad thing. But our community has brought us all together.”
And they still have a few trees to sell.
Anyone with information can call the department at 307-754-2212, call the crime tips line at 307-764-8477 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.