Fourth of July theft at Porch Pantry charity has Peoria couple reeling

PEORIA — The Fourth of July theft of security cameras off a porch might be straw that breaks the camel’s back for a couple who has spent the past 15 months using their property as a makeshift thrift store.

Combined with prior thefts of lawn mowers, weed whackers and plants, that could doom the Porch Pantry, a startup charity two West Bluff residents formed last year. And organizers say a current lack of donors isn’t helping either.

Nothing is decided yet, and Kelli and Charles Martin say they are waiting for a sign on what to do. But they are frustrated after someone stole two Wi-Fi cameras off their porch.

“That’s what we used to monitor our property,” Charles Martin said. 

He’s quick to note that despite the irritation of the thefts, helping a person in need and seeing the result of that is a powerful reason to try to keep the porch open. Rather than closing, Charles Martin said it’s possible operations there could simply change. 

Started in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Porch Pantry was the Martins’ way of trying to help the community. They offered up food, clothing and other items for people to take off their porch. Volunteers have helped along the way to monitor the site and to donate items. 

Their ultimate goal was to find a more permanent location for the pantry that isn’t on their own porch. They’re in the process of achieving 501(c)3 status so donations could be tax deductible, but that takes time. In the meantime, things are working out.

“We have a church that has helped us with a community garden and others that also help out,” Kelli Martin said. “We are finally getting to the point where it is not just us and we have partners and others who want to help us succeed.”

Things have been taken in the past, Kelli Martin said. Four rose bushes vanished one day. Wreaths made from the artificial flowers in her wedding bouquet also disappeared, and so did some potted plants.

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“A woman came up to me later and said she ‘loved those potted plants,’ and I told her they weren’t to be taken. She didn’t realize that,” Kelli Martin said.

But it’s hard for the Martins to see how anyone would think the surveillance cameras on the porch were for the taking. The two cameras disappeared Sunday evening and were only discovered missing when Charles Martin tried to use them to see if any debris from the fireworks being set off in the neighborhood had struck their house.

They’ll replace them, using their own money and funds donated from a Facebook appeal. Both Martins said they didn’t report it to their insurance because the out-of-pocket cost would have been the same. 

“I’m not sure if it’s people being malicious or if it’s just people who aren’t thinking,” Kelli Martin said.

And it’s given them pause on whether they should keep going. It’s a lot of work, they say, and the initial rush of adrenaline from last year when they were starting the pantry off is gone and challenges have appeared.

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“It’s getting harder and harder to do the things we want to. We thought we’d find a permanent place for Porch Pantry by now, and it’s getting harder to find people who want to donate,” Kelli Martin said, adding that summer poses the additional problem of the heat ruining many types of food. So for a few months, they can only offer up canned goods and other shelf-stable foods.

Both feel a debt to the people who have helped them over the past months, and both don’t want to quit. But they’re tired and weighing their options.

“We are waiting for a sign. Something will happen and that’ll tell us which way to go,” Charles Martin said.

Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.