The alleged theft of more than $50,000 from a charitable fund of the Salvation Army was heartbreaking, but did not slow its donations for emergency payments to people in need, officials of the nonprofit organization said.

And its insurance carrier restored the missing money, said Major C. Joe Murray, commanding officer of the Salvation Army in Santa Rosa.

The organization's former bookkeeper, Paula Fernandez, 48, of Santa Rosa, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of stealing from the Christian charity's "Season of Sharing" account with forged checks, police said.

As soon as a fraudulent check was detected Oct. 2 at Exchange Bank, Fernandez was fired and an auditing process launched, Murray said.

"We were all in shock," Murray said.

But the Salvation Army moved ahead with grants given as one-time payments toward rent, utilities or other items for people in need.

They gave approximately $245,277 to 248 Sonoma County families in 2012 up to December as part of "Season of Sharing," Murray said. The final year-end tally was not yet available.

The organization allotted funds from a general account to cover what was taken until funds were received from the insurance carrier, he said.

"We've been as proactive with this as possible," he said.

"Season of Sharing" provides grants to people in 10 Bay Area counties, including Sonoma. The funds often go toward critical needs such as preventing eviction or keeping the heat on.

It was the only Salvation Army fund accessed by Fernandez during her year with the nonprofit agency, aside from some petty cash, Murray said. All other accounts are managed by accounting operations in Sacramento. Management of the fund has since been transferred there.

The organization also has retrained staff and developed a monitoring system so it can't happen again, Murray said.

Murray has run the Santa Rosa branch of the Christian charity with his wife Major Florence Murray since July, when the pair arrived from their previous post in Eugene, Ore.

"Morale has been fairly upbeat and we worked well during the Christmas season, but it still is a feeling of lack of control, in a sense, or surprise that somebody would do something like that," Murray said.

Anyone with information about the case can call Santa Rosa Detective Patricia Seffens at 543-3575.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or

Resources To Help

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