Some might call it cutting out the middleman. The police call it theft.
A group of youths stole two bags' worth of donated toys from St. Helen Catholic Church, in Pearland, Texas, during Mass on Sunday, police said. A similar theft had occurred at Mary Queen Catholic Church, in nearby Friendswood, said police.
"You'd think toys for the needy would be safe at a church," said Lt. Onesimo Lopez of the Pearland Police Department.
Lopez, who belongs to St. Helen, said parishioners had been leaving brand-new, unopened toys at a designated area in the church's foyer to be given to needy children at Christmas. There was an estimated $600 worth of toys in the two bags, he said.
According to a police news release, just before 11 a.m. Sunday, two girls and a boy were filmed outside the church by surveillance cameras. After Mass began at 11 a.m., the suspects were seen entering the church and walking out with the two large bags. One bag was being carried by a girl whom police estimated was between 8 and 10 years old.
They were also seen panhandling outside the church, with at least one woman giving them money.
The video shows the trio getting into a gold Chrysler minivan with tinted windows and no front license plate.
Police suspect they are part of an itinerant group of thieves targeting holiday toy donations, Lopez said. The kids didn't look familiar to the priest or anyone else police interviewed, he said.
Lopez said no similar burglaries had occurred during the holidays in recent years. The last time police caught itinerant thieves was last summer, when two men and a woman were arrested for stealing from cars outside day care centers, he said.
Lopez said none of the tips called in had proved useful.