Grinch has a heart: Thief returns Toys for Tot cash to Clock Restaurant

Donations for Toys for Tots continue to be accepted through Friday, with delivery to the children scheduled for Saturday. For more information, contact Joe Johnston at (239) 207-5198, or joe.johnston1@comcast.net.

Clock Restaurant

670 Tamiami Trail North
Naples, FL
Phone: 239-261-6724

Quite frankly, somehow the Clock is easy to ignore, despite the fact that it has occupied highway frontage at 670 U.S. 41 N. for at least 30 years. (It sort of resembles those trusty but nondescript chains like Ho Jo ...

More about Clock Restaurant »
Video from NBC-2

— A local Grinch’s heart grew three sizes today.

A man who stole a cash box of donations for Toys for Tots on Tuesday night returned the money after being overwhelmed with regret, a restaurant manager said on Thursday afternoon.

Berma Stettner, a manager at the Clock Restaurant in Downtown Naples, said the young man who stole the money made contact with her husband and fellow manager, Gus Stettner, through his sponsor at a local drug rehabilitation program. Around 1 p.m. Thursday, the man entered the restaurant, returned the $137 he stole, made a donation of $50 and declared that if management wanted to have him arrested, he was willing to accept the punishment for his actions, Stettner said.

“He was devastated,” Stettner said. “He said he saw the news yesterday and it kept eating at him and eating at him.”

Stettner, who elected not to press charges, didn’t recall the man’s name but described him as clean-shaven and in his early 20s. She said he also admitted to having a young son and relapsing while in a drug rehabilitation program on Tuesday. Stettner said he told them he didn’t know why he took the money, but after eyeing the unwatched box of cash at the front of the restaurant, he simply grabbed it and ran.

“He seems to want to do the right thing and get back on track,” Stettner said. “It gives us hope that people can change and do better.”

As news of the theft filtered into the community yesterday, the Stettners, along with officials from Toys for Tots, the Marine Corps Reserve charity that gives toys to children in need during the holiday season, said they were overcome by the show of generosity that poured in from area residents who were outraged by the theft.

Overnight, the cash box collected more than $1,200, and donations of toys were placed under the tree at the restaurant’s entrance, Stettner said.

“It’s overwhelming,” Gus Stettner said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. “A guy walked in first thing this morning and handed me a hundred dollar bill. He said, ‘I just finished reading the article in the paper and couldn’t believe what happened.’”

Gus Stettner said many people have walked in, handed him a check and left, not even bothering to eat.

“I’ve always believed that in times of crisis, people are generous,” Stettner said. “Words couldn’t describe what I feel.”

Joe Johnston, coordinator for Toys for Tots in Collier County, also described the community’s response as “overwhelming,” adding that his organization had to return to the Clock Restaurant twice Thursday to empty the cash box.

“Our heartfelt thanks goes out to the citizens of Collier County,” Johnston said.

The theft occurred around 10:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Clock Restaurant, 670 U.S. 41 N. Employees told police that while working in the back of the restaurant, the small donation box for Toys for Tots was stolen from the front of the restaurant.

According to the police report, an employee noticed a customer hanging around the front counter near the donation box. Upon being questioned, the customer said he was waiting for someone, but disappeared after employees returned from working in the back. The donation box was also gone.

Donations for Toys for Tots continue to be accepted through Friday, with delivery to the children scheduled for Saturday. For more information, contact Joe Johnston at (239) 207-5198, or joe.johnston1@comcast.net.

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