The trailers were parked on a secluded lot at Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville and vanished weeks before the loss was discovered.
Now Whitney Winston, who started the ministry in 2011, has to begin again to develop the games, crafts, instructions, totes, books, health equipment, records, and more that were lost.
Last summer, Camp in the Community served 1,204 children at 25 churches. Camp in the Community is a day camp for impoverished neighborhoods, where children experience a free week of outdoorsy, faith-building activities and meals, hosted by a local church.
“I’m devastated,” Winston said. “It’s a lot to recover and build up again, even if we get all the money to replace it.”
Police reports and insurance claims were filed, but Winston is distraught that the trailers have been missing perhaps since August. They were parked behind Fairview’s “The Remedy” church after the summer camp season ended Aug. 1.
A Fairview staff member noticed the trailers were missing in mid-September but assumed Winston had moved them. Winston did not realize the trailers were gone until Oct. 18.
“I went to get some things out of one of the trailers,” she said. “I thought maybe I was losing it, so I drove around Fairview. You can see the patches of grass where they used to be. They left not a trace behind, even though there were multiple locks on the trailers.”
The trailers were 6-by-12-foot, single-axle in different colors: black, gray, white. The trailers were not marked with United Methodist symbols or camp signs. They were bought new for $3,000 each in 2015, 2017, and 2018, Winston said.
Because Camp in the Community is mobile, almost all of the camp’s supplies, valued at $50,000, were stored in the trailers. The missing inventory includes Gaga Ball games built by church members, a $4,000 archery set, and two AED defibrillator machines for cardiac emergencies.
Winston assumes the person or persons who stole the trailers discarded the items that were not useful for re-selling.
“When you open up something and see games and crafts for children, wouldn’t you have any remorse?” she asked.
Also included in the trailers were books collected by the Maryville District United Methodist Women, who wanted every Camp in the Community child to take a book home. Over the last three years, 3,000 books have been distributed.
Gone now are 1,200 books for next summer’s campers.
“This is not what I’m supposed to be working on now. I’m supposed to be working on the future,” said Winston.
The Rev. Paul Seay, pastor of Seymour United Methodist Church, is on the board for Camp in the Community, one of five camps in Holston Conference Camp and Retreat Ministries.
“We can't pretend like we're aren't upset by this. We are indeed very angry and hurt,” Seay said.
“Still, we refuse to let this theft harden our hearts. We will pray for those who did this. We will continue to go into the community in the name of Jesus. Camp in the Community has always been a hopeful sign of Christ's presence in the midst of a cynical and pessimistic culture. That will not change," Seay said.
Winston was an employee of Camp Wesley Woods when she started Camp in the Community in 2011. In November 2016, Camp in the Community was reorganized as a Holston Conference ministry. Winston is responsible for raising funds for the ministry and until recently, raised her own salary.
The first day of summer camp 2020 is June 7. Staff training begins May 18. Winston typically would begin reorganizing for the 2020 season in January.
The clock is ticking.
Visit the Camp in the Community website for ways to help.