Theft from Salvation Army didn't slow donations; funds restored by insurance

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.

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