PARISHIONERS at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church at East Maitland are pleading with a thief whotook three large bags full of toys and books to show some Christmas compassion.

SHOCKED: East Maitland Presbyterian church parishioners Alison Rae, Lynette Begg, Judy Haigh and at front, Elizabeth Donovan. Picture: Sage Swinton

Parishioner Judy Haigh had four bags full of donations ready to give to the Salvation Army in her car before the Sunday service, but three of them were too heavy for her to bring inside the church.

She popped them near the front fence for one of the male parishioners to bring inside.

But in the five minute gap between the Ms Haigh sitting the bags against the fence and the male parishioner going out to get them, the bags disappeared.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Ms Haigh said. “It was just dreadful, I started to cry.”

Ms Haigh said bags that people had donated for the church op shop had been left outsidebefore, sometimes for the duration of the church service.

“We’ve never had anything happen like this before,” she said. “Who would steal from outside a church?

Parishioners unsuccessfully scoured the surrounding streets in the hope the thief had discarded the bags when they were revealed to contain only books and toys.

Ms Haigh urged anyone involved toreturn the items for the sake of those in need this Christmas.

“Will you please think of Christmas and the children who are going to do without?” She said.

The church is still taking donations for the Salvation Army, and urge people to donate what they can.