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December 26. 2013 9:15PM

Manchester police officers replace stolen gifts for struggling city family


Page Van Der Putten, 8, holds a doll in the living room of her Somerville Street home Thursday, two days after Manchester police restored her Christmas. (MARK HAYWARD / UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER -- A family’s Christmas was restored by Manchester police this week, after a burglar cleaned a basement storage area of wrapped gifts two days before Christmas.

Unable to catch the crook, Manchester police officers opened their wallets to provide a Christmas for the family’s 8-year-old girl, 15-year-old boy, and their cancer-ridden father.

Others — including police unions, police associated groups, the Salvation Army, the city Welfare Department, Child and Family Services, even store employees — contributed.

In the end, the children had their stolen gifts replaced, plus some extras — bicycles for the two children, board games and gift cards for the family of Laurie Charest.

“I was awed. It was amazing what they did,” said Charest, 42, who works as a client services coordinator for a local home health and hospice program.According to police, Charest reported the thefts at 5 p.m. Monday. There are no locks on the basement and hallway doors at 750-756 Somerville St., a six-unit building in the St. Anthony neighorhood of the city.

The basement showed no sign of forced entry, police Lt. Maureen Tessier said.

Detectives Joe Mucci and Derek Cataldo realized they had few leads, so they started collecting money at the station. Community Policing Officer Rick Brown got donations from the Salvation Army and the Manchester Police Athletic League, which had just concluded toy distributions to needy families.

City Welfare and Child and Family Services donated gift cards.

And when the officers went shopping, Sears, Target and Market Basket provided deep discounts. Some employees even made personal donations.

Police Department employees called Charest to the station’s community room on Christmas Eve. Two tables were crammed with wrapped gifts.

“It was amazing. They made it sound like they were going to recoup a couple (of the stolen gifts),” Charest said.

On Thursday, board games remained under the tree, her 8-year-old’s room was crammed with doll-related toys, and a skateboard was tucked beside the family couch.

The timing couldn’t be better for Charest. Her long-term boyfriend, Rudy Van Der Putten Jr., 44, has advanced lung cancer that has spread to his brain. Doctors plan to operate on Van Der Putten’s brain tumors on Jan. 3, Charest said.

On New Year’s Day, they are going to be married. In fact, they think the burglary took place Monday while they were visiting City Hall for the marriage license.

Van Der Putten said police need to be recognized for their efforts.

“They need a plaque for this one,” he said.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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