Nonprofit appeals for return of donation-filled trailer stolen in St. Louis Park

The Thanksgiving Day Free Store is a 26-year tradition now in jeopardy after a recent theft of a trailer storing donated items for the annual homeless outreach event.

Suzie White’s mother, Jo Senander, started the nonprofit to distribute free winter clothes and essential items in 1995. Every year they collect and store donations outside Union Congregational Church in St. Louis Park to distribute at St. Stephen’s Catholic School in south Minneapolis on Thanksgiving Day. Between 500 and 700 people attend.

But there is a problem this year: The trailer was stolen. Police are investigating and White hopes the trailer will be returned.

“I can’t believe people steal stuff from church parking lots. Come on, seriously?” White said in a phone interview Monday.

She reported the missing trailer to police Aug. 28 and said she last saw it about 1 p.m. Aug. 18. The trailer is described as a 6- by 12-foot Stealth brand, with a V-shaped front and ramp door. It has a partial diamond-plate exterior with upgraded wheels and rims and interior mounted storage rails to secure loaded items.

Inside were donated items for individuals and families in need, including winter coats, hats, boots, sweatshirts, socks, underwear and personal items. White said the nonprofit recently purchased several backpacks on clearance. Congregation members also have been donating gently used clothing for the annual event.

“We gather warm things mostly with an eye to the guys who live on the streets,” she said.

Senander’s work was acknowledged with KARE-TV’s “Eleven Who Care” award in 2009. Until she was 80, she joined teens for an annual event to sleep outside in cardboard boxes to raise awareness about homelessness in the metro.

White said her mother, who died in 2018 at the age of 86, never dealt with theft, and White said it’s unfortunate that she’s faced the issue twice in recent years.

A similar situation unfolded a few years ago, White said, when an older trailer was stolen from the St. Louis Park church parking lot.

At that time, White reported it to police, but ended up spending more than $3,000 in insurance money and her personal savings to buy the one that was stolen in recent weeks.

White said she regrets not putting the Thanksgiving Day Free Store logo all over the new trailer to deter thieves by appealing to their good conscience.

“If by some miracle we get this thing back, we are going to plaster [the logo] all over,” White said.

Anyone with information on the trailer is asked to call St. Louis Park police at 952-924-2618.

Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751

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