FARMINGTON — Volunteers unloaded cases of peanut butter, cereals, juices, canned vegetables and stew from a truck Friday at the Care and Share Food Closet.

Volunteers stacked shelves in the closet at the Fairbanks School Meeting House on Route 4.

The nonprofit organization is growing and feeding about 500 families a month. 

It is also recovering from a financial crisis.

Everyone involved with the food closet and many community members are in shock about the $306,000 stolen from the organization, Executive Director Leiza Hiltz Scerbo said Friday.

That is only the checks going back to 2001 and what they can prove, she said.

“At this point we have no idea how much cash is missing,” she said. There are no records of how much was donated or if it was deposited into an account.

Mary O’Donal, 74, of Farmington, the sole treasurer of the organization for decades, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Franklin County Superior Court to stealing the money. She is scheduled to be sentenced at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, March 9.

O’Donal and representatives of the organization plan to address the court.

The recommended sentence is three years, with all but 30 days suspended. The joint agreement also calls for O’Donal to pay $291,000 in restitution. She previously repaid $15,000 in check form and gave it to Farmington Detective Marc Bowering during his investigation. She also confessed to taking the money.

O’Donal also must deed her house over to the closet and enter an agreement to still live there with her husband. The house and land are valued by the town of Farmington at $64,000, Town Clerk Leanne Dickey said.

After Hiltz Scerbo became executive director in January 2015, she set up teams of four people for each job done at the nonprofit organization. That way if someone is away or sick other members of the team would know what to do, she said.

Some of the people involved in the closet carried a heavy load, including O’Donal, she said. She was the sole treasurer.

One of the four-member teams implemented was to oversee finances.

“We started to get resistance to change when we asked Mary to put other people’s names on the checking account,” Hiltz Scerbo said.

When she wouldn’t do it, they opened up another account. The checkbook which was only in O’Donal’s name was the type that once a check was torn out, a stub was left indicating the amount and what it was for. It didn’t have a carbon copy, Hiltz Scerbo said.

It was more expensive than the carbon-copy style.

Some red flags were raised at times.

“(O’Donal) was totally resistant to change,” Hiltz Scerbo said.

In November 2015, O’Donal resigned and delivered a box of records but no checking account. “O’Donal’s husband had been ill so we didn’t think anything of it,” she said.

The team was putting all of the information on a computer to make it more efficient, Hiltz Scerbo said.

“The goal was to upgrade the equipment they had and have information available to apply for grants,” she said.

The controller brought some financial discrepancies to Hiltz Scerbo’s attention and she began to do research.

One thing that stood out was checks were being made out in even numbers of $1,000, $2,000 or $3,000 monthly, she said. The expenditures were listed on the stub as being paid to local grocery stores. But other checks were written in uneven amounts, she said. There were no invoices or receipts to back up the expenditures.

“So we thought maybe she was making payments on an account set up at a grocery store,” Hiltz Scerbo said.

When O’Donal resigned, she closed the checking account in her name leaving the organization without access to bank records.

Hiltz Scerbo went back to 2001 and financial information she had did not match up. She figured out $306,000 was missing.

“I had no choice, I had to go to police,” she said.

She presented the information to Bowering and he launched an investigation.

After finally getting bank records, Bowering determined that every check written to O’Donal was in an even amount and listed on the stubs as paid to grocery stores. Store representatives did not know anything about it.

The organization has had no losses since they set up the four-person financial team, Hiltz Scerbo said. People are still supportive and donating. Everything is accounted for now, she said.

“I think everybody believed and had faith and trust” that O’Donal was doing her job, Hiltz Scerbo said.

People who had worked with her at the closet wonder how they missed the theft, she said.

“We are lucky that people that have helped us in the past have stood by us. It was really a horrible thing,” Hiltz Scerbo said.

[email protected]

FARMINGTON — The Care and Share Food Closet on Route 4/Fairbanks Road in Farmington is in desperate need of volunteers to spread the work around, Executive Director Leiza Hiltz Scerbo said.

Adults and children under adult supervision can volunteer in various ways.

Anyone interested in volunteering may call the closet at 207-778-0508. There is an answering machine if no one answers. Therese Hersey is the volunteer coordinator.

Volunteers at the Care and Share Food Closet in Farmington, David Scribner, left, Jerry Allen, co-director of the organization, Bob Lawrence, right, and Richard Garpen stacking the hand truck, bring in cases of food Friday.  

Volunteers David Tyler, left, Brent Granberg, center, and Greg Rackliffe stock shelves Friday at the Care and Share Food Closet in Farmington.

Comments are not available on this story.