URBANA — Police are looking for thieves who stole $1,800 or more from cash donation baskets at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Service of Celebration on Sunday afternoon.
The money is used to provide scholarships for local students.
According to a University of Illinois police report, the theft took place between 5 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, after collection baskets were spread throughout Foellinger Great Hall at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana.
Skip Thompson, 79, a committee member of the sponsoring Martin Luther King Jr. Advocacy for Justice organization, said the baskets were passed through the audience during Sunday's ceremonies by ushers. Thompson was one of the ushers who helped to count the money.
"We never got all the baskets back," Thompson said. "We started out with 37 baskets, and we ended up with 31."
According to the police report, the money collected was counted in a room adjacent to the main hall, but six baskets were never returned.
"Based on what we received last year, we think somebody got away with at least $1,800 in checks and cash and coins," Thompson said.
Thompson said last year's collection baskets had about $4,000, and Thompson said there was a larger turnout for the 2012 event.
Thompson said the money goes to pay for scholarships. He said scholarships were awarded to 10 people Sunday.
"This was one of our biggest fundraisers of the year," Thompson said.
Thompson said people who wish to make contributions may send them to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 704, Champaign, IL 61824-0704.
This marks the second theft in three years at the King celebration.
In January 2010, three men were arrested for stealing from people attending the event. In that case, a witness saw the three loitering backstage. Police said they took a purse and two sets of car keys belonging to people involved in the service.
The men used the keys to unlock at least one car that had been parked in the underground garage and stole an iPod. While the purse was recovered, cash and a credit card were missing from it. The iPod, cash and credit card were later recovered following arrests. The two adults pleaded guilty to burglary; the third was a juvenile.