THE GRINCH may have stolen Christmas, but a change of heart saved his reputation in the end.

Volunteers for a South Jersey Toys for Tots program say they weren't so lucky, though: In a federal lawsuit filed last week, the volunteers say they were falsely accused of being Grinch-like around the holidays last year, and that the resulting media coverage ruined their reputations.

According to the lawsuit, filed in Camden, Desmond Newbill and Shawna Boyce, both volunteers for the Toys for Tots program run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, entered a Walgreens in Cherry Hill on Dec. 12, 2012, to collect toys from the donation bins.

Newbill and his wife, Mary Burton-Newbill, dropped the bin off in October, the complaint alleged, and were known to employees at the store. On this day, however, a pharmacist watching surveillance video at the store called police, believing Newbill and Boyce were stealing the toys.

The Cherry Hill Police Department, one of several defendants named in the case, published a story about the alleged theft on its Facebook page, along with the surveillance video, the complaint alleged, asking the public's help in identifying the individuals. A story was published in a local newspaper, and several television stations characterized the incident as the "Grinch that Stole Christmas," the complaint alleged, "in their haste to make a mythical and hated Christmas character and story come to life."

Newbill, an employee of the Camden City School District, turned himself in to police and was eventually released after the chairman of the Camden County Toys for Tots program vouched for him and the other volunteers. Police issued a retraction, but according to the complaint, it placed blame on the Newbills and Boyce for not showing proper identification in the store.

The Newbills and Boyce are suing the township, the police department and numerous media outlets, alleging that the false accusations defamed them, tarnishing their reputations with their employers, youth organizations and recipients in the Toys for Tots program.

Cherry Hill officials referred all comments to the police department. A police spokesman declined to comment on the litigation.

Justin Cohen, a Philadelphia lawyer representing the Newbills and Boyce, did not return a request for comment.

Twitter: @JasonNark