Gifts for Shelter Kids Stolen From Harlem Activist on Christmas Eve

By Jeff Mays on December 30, 2011 11:55am 

Maria Davis stands next to the passenger side of her rented SUV that thieves broke into to steal gifts meant for children at shelters.
Maria Davis stands next to the passenger side of her rented SUV that thieves broke into to steal gifts meant for children at shelters.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — The surveillance video from the Sojourner Truth House for battered women in the Bronx shows two men with hoods over their heads breaking the rear passenger window of Maria Davis' rented SUV just before 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

The men are shown pulling out bag after bag of gifts that were meant for kids living in the shelter system. Three minutes later, they are gone. The community activist's friends refer to the thieves as the "Grinches who stole Maria Davis' and the shelter's Christmas."

"There were skateboards and clothes from the Gap and Macy's that people spent their hard-earned money to buy and donate to children," said Davis, 51, an AIDS activist, promoter and well-known volunteer in Harlem, who has helped organize events for stars ranging from Jay-Z to P. Diddy.

"If I were to tell you what I was really wishing on them, it would not be Christian-like."

Davis spent weeks collecting and sorting the gifts, which she said had a total value of $2,000. She was supposed to deliver them to children at the Bronx shelter Christmas Eve, but the gifts stayed hidden in the vehicle — or so she thought — after volunteers decided they had enough left over to surprise two Harlem shelters on Christmas morning.

"You can't buy the smiles on these kids' faces when you walk in with brand-new toys on Christmas," said Mychal Sledge, CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit youth organization The Sledge Group, who has delivered Christmas gifts to area shelters for 15 years, the last six with the help of Davis.

"Everybody has to eat, but not at the cost of stealing," he added, "and certainly not stealing from kids in shelters on Christmas Eve."

Both Sledge and Davis said they spent more than three hours, into Christmas Day, waiting for the police to arrive at the scene. The NYPD classified the incident as petit larceny and criminal mischief, according to the incident report.

For a day or so after the incident, Davis felt anxious and overwhelmed.

She believes the men were hiding in the shadows and targeted the car after seeing her retrieve a sweater for a girl at the shelter who requested one as a gift. The thieves also stole Davis' purse, which contained her wallet, keys, credit card and drivers license, according to police.

"I kept picturing those guys going into the car. He jumped through that window... like he was Superman. I felt so helpless," said Davis, who, along with Sledge, viewed the surveillance video of the theft.

But the incident wasn't enough to force Davis to give up. Instead, she's planning a fundraiser to make sure the kids get a late Christmas.

She described the robbery to Ahmed Rodriguez, a fellow promoter and owner of Power Is Industry Inc. who has known Davis since he was a teenager growing up in the Polo Grounds Towers in Harlem.

"Ever since I've known her, she has always been the person devoting her time to helping the community," Rodriguez said.

He offered to turn a party he planned at Aloft Harlem Friday for music and entertainment professionals into a fundraiser to help recover the cost of the toys and gifts that were stolen.

"I was upset but also saddened that someone would do this, especially at this time of year," Rodriguez said. "There are certain lines you don't cross. You don't hurt children."

But he wasn't the only person who responded with offers of help.

Davis' Facebook page is filled with pledges of money and toys, and she is asking people to bring a new toy or board game to the Aloft party. The Sojourner Truth Home also needs comforters, blankets and sheets.

"I hope they know the universe will take care of this," she said of the thieves. "You reap what you sow. That's true for them and for me."

Tonight's music and entertainment industry social mixer starts at 7 p.m. at Aloft Harlem at 2296 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, between West 123rd and West 124th streets. It will be hosted by Power 105.1's DJ Whutevva. Davis is asking for donations of unwrapped toys, board games and twin sheets, comforters and blankets. Call (646) 387-6553 or e-mail ARodriguez@PowerIsIndustry.com or Mariaspeaksout@gmail.com for more information.

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