Thieves make off with trees from East Baltimore lot

December 15, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

In East Baltimore, it's not the Grinch who's been stealing Christmas; it's young punks and street criminals.

Late Monday night, city police arrested a 16-year-old and charged him with theft for stealing Christmas trees. The trees were being sold to raise money for a college scholarship fund.

It was the second time in less than a week that a hole had been cut in the wire fence surrounding the lot in the 2000 block of N. Aisquith St. More than a dozen trees have been taken, according to police and the fund's principal benefactor.

Yesterday, the benefactor, Erich March, vice president and general manager of March Funeral Home Inc., took to the streets with a sign.

"Help Send A Kid To College," it read. "Buy A Tree Before They're All Stolen!"

Mr. March, who often sees the grimmest result of street crime in his job overseeing one of the city's largest funeral businesses, which buries dozens of murder victims each year, doesn't want to exaggerate the significance of the thefts but he doesn't want to minimize them, either.

"To me, I guess it just highlights the extent of the problem," he said yesterday. "It's not a significant crime problem but it's symptomatic.

"I think more than anything else, it's part of that hopelessness out there. The kids are trying to do what they gotta do to get what they can get. Unfortunately, too often it's drugs, or, for a lot of them, it's bare necessities."

Mr. March said 19 trees were stolen Monday night and last Thursday night -- almost half as many as the 40 he and other volunteer employees have sold.

The funeral home executive, who has been active in several "Stop the Killing" vigils and several years ago organized a vocal group to spread the anti-violence gospel, conceived of the Christmas tree sale as a way to raise additional money for a company-sponsored college scholarship fund.

Named for Mr. March's late aunt, The Thelma March Scholarship Fund has helped 23 students since 1982. It awards annual scholarships to needy students totaling about $12,000 a year, Mr. March said.

He figured if he sold all the 200 trees he ordered -- at a cost of $17 and up -- from a vacant lot next door to the business' garage and florist shop he could raise another $2,500 for the fund.

"This was the first time we tried to do something in the Christmas spirit to raise funds," he said.

Five days after opening for business Dec. 4, someone cut a hole

through the fence and made off with 11 trees, Mr. March said. A woman came by the next day and said she saw five or six young people taking trees but didn't call police because she figured the thieves would be gone before officers arrived, he said.

Mr. March, who paid $250 to repair the fence, hired someone to stay at the lot all night for three nights to discourage thieves but later decided he couldn't afford to keep doing that. The next night, the lot was hit again and eight more trees were missing.

Police said a patrolman saw the youth they arrested with one of the trees. Police said he entered the lot through a hole in the fence.

Mr. March hopes he has seen the last of the burglaries.

"This doesn't diminish my desire to do something," he said.

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