Dan Weiss is a trusting guy.
For more than 20 years during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, he has put a bin outside his Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop to collect toys for the Marine Corps charity Toys for Tots. Many nights, he left it out for after-hours donations.
"I guess I was looking for the brighter side of humanity," said Weiss, whose father started the business in 1962.
Until last weekend, humanity had never let him down. Every morning, Weiss would arrive to open his store and the bin would be right outside the front door where he'd left it the night before, usually piled higher with toys.
Sunday morning, however, he and daughter Jacqueline found the sidewalk empty.
"Don't jump to any conclusions," he told Jacqueline, a senior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. Maybe, he thought, as it had been drizzling the night before, local police or firefighters had moved the box to a dry place.
But no. Weiss checked with one of the bicycle patrol police officers who had been working the 4-to-10-p.m. shift Saturday. Last the officer remembered, the bin was there.
"I feel frustrated because I could have prevented it," Jacqueline Weiss said. She'd been begging her father to bring the box in, trying to persuade him that people can't be trusted, not even in a community like Chestnut Hill, one of the wealthiest and safest in the city.
"Somebody had just come and brought two huge bags from Target on Saturday," Jacqueline Weiss said. "People spent their money and donated toys thinking they were going to a good cause, and somebody had to go and be like a Grinch."
She has concluded people can't be trusted. Her wallet has been stolen twice this year, she said. And her father's longtime business partner left abruptly in September, leaving him shorthanded, which is why she and her younger sister have been helping out nearly every afternoon and weekend.
Dan Weiss, however, can't bring himself to extrapolate one bad deed to a mass indictment of society. Amiable and generous, Weiss often offers his customers free cups of coffee, tea, or (on Sunday afternoons) wine along with their purchases from his densely stocked store.
For so many years, his trust was rewarded. A few days before Christmas, his friend Navy Capt. Howard Serlick would arrive in dress blues with a few uniformed Marines to collect the donated toys.
So far this season, he has collected so many, he said, the haul is too heavy for him to lift. Whenever the container outside was filled, he emptied it in the back of the shop. "Let's see," he said, sifting through the box. "Wild animals, a Guess Who? game, Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, a wooden doll dress-up kit, a Sparkling Princess Jasmine, a Toy Story 3 DVD. . . ."
Nevertheless, the theft has clouded his otherwise buoyant outlook. "I'm still in shock," Weiss said.
He hasn't filed a police report, but he has asked the Chestnut Hill Business Association to review tapes from surveillance cameras in the area. "Maybe we have the picture of the lowlife - or lowlives - who took toys from children whose families can't afford to buy them."