Bryan Morton, founder of the North Camden Little League, had a disaster on his hands. Last week, thieves ransacked the Pyne Poynt Park snack stand, crippling the league’s ability to sell food at games and raise money to keep registration fees low.
Then an anonymous baseball fan stepped up this week, pledging to donate $15,000 to restart the concession.
Morton said the donor had no previous connections to him or the league. He said the man, “in his words, ‘loves baseball,’” and saw the value of the league, which has 650 children enrolled this summer.
“That was an absolute surprise, totally humbling from my perspective,” he said of the windfall.
Morton discovered last Wednesday that about $15,000 worth of equipment — including refrigerators, coolers, and a deep fryer — and food had been stolen from the stand.
He knew the loss of potential income from the concession, about $5,000, could affect the $25-per-person registration fee, an amount far lower than those in suburban communities. Morton feared the loss would increase registration costs for the 2020 season and decrease the number of players.
Morton began a crowd-sourcing campaign over the weekend, originally hoping to raise $20,000 by August. The anonymous donor contacted him and promised $15,000 by the end of this week.
In addition to replacing the stolen equipment, the funds will allow the league to begin selling food and drinks by July 10.
Morton said he will reach out to others who have pledged financial support and tell them of the $15,000 donation, hoping they will still contribute and keep costs down next summer.
Although the theft prompted an ambitious campaign, fundraising is not new for the league. Since the first pitch in 2011, it has relied on sponsors to cover costs, such as the $14,000 annual cost of paying umpires. Morton said other communities often charge $125 for registration, five times what North Camden Little League required this year.
This year, the 650 players between the ages of 5 and 19 will play for 38 teams across the league’s seven divisions spanning baseball, softball, and T-ball. The season began this month and will end in mid-August.
“We’re a nontraditional league. Most other towns begin in early March and end in early June,” Morton said. “We understand that in places like Camden, children are most at risk during the late spring and early summer.”
While the players focus on practices and games, the Camden County Police Department will continue its investigation of the theft. It has received several tips and released two images: one of a white pickup truck the thieves allegedly used to haul away kitchen equipment and the other of a suspect pushing a water ice freezer.
Morton said the robbery likely took place on June 17 or 18. Both days, the league canceled programs due to rain, providing a cover for the criminal, he said.
According to northjersey.com, there have been at least 27 burglaries since April 24 at Little League concession stands throughout North Jersey — including ones in Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Morris, Sussex, and Middlesex Counties.