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Police check for more Salvation Army thefts
Robbery was isolated incident, but Salvation Army officials remain vigilant
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Oakwood police are looking for other locations where they said a man may have posed as a Salvation Army bell ringer to take money.

Ernest Andrea Jackson, 41, who also goes by the name Ernest Andrea Mize, is accused of taking off with a kettle and apron while he worked at the Walmart in Oakwood on Friday, Salvation Army officials said.

Gainesville police arrested Jackson and charged him with theft by taking early Tuesday morning.

Jackson appeared before a Hall County judge Tuesday afternoon, where bond was set at $10,000.

"We've received reports that he was seen at the Walmart in Acworth around 6 p.m. Monday," investigator Danny Sridej said Wednesday. "I asked for the video surveillance yesterday and am still waiting on that."

Oakwood police began looking for Jackson on Monday when Salvation Army officials reported the theft. When police located Jackson at the Kangaroo Express at College Avenue and E.E. Butler Parkway, Jackson didn't have the stolen apron, bell and kettle with him.

Salvation Army officials estimate the bucket probably contained $200-$400 by the time Jackson took off in a car around 6 p.m. Friday. At 40 hours on minimum wage for the next three weeks, a bell ringer likely would have earned about $900.

Officials have notified Salvation Army organizations throughout the metro Atlanta area, Sridej said.

The situation is an isolated incident, but Salvation Army officials remain vigilant as they check job applications for the bell ringer positions, said Matt Cunningham, who heads up Gainesville's group.

"We verify that their I-9 (U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement form) is legal and then do a national background check," he said.

"People can have full faith that we fully check every person who comes through, which comes at a cost to us, but we feel it is necessary."

Jackson, who has felonies on his record, wasn't caught because he applied under his mother's maiden name, Mize. This week's incident won't cause a change in policy for Salvation Army hires, Cunningham said.

"This happened with the name discrepancy, and the police were even baffled that it happened. We don't see it often," he said.

"How do we change anything if we've done everything we can? It was an isolated incident, and we didn't have the other name to check. He also had a legal ID and Social Security card."

With 25 donation locations in the Gainesville area, Salvation Army officials must hire workers when volunteers chose to work specific hours, mostly on weekends.

The office hires a pool of applicants and uses about 10-15 hired bell ringers per day.

"We can't afford not to have those places covered during the week, and this gives us a chance to give people who are looking for work a hand up," Cunningham said.

"We pay them minimum wage, and they get to earn a living for this month while looking for other jobs. We get to help a lot of people who are looking for some type of local employment."

The holiday collections will likely help more than 3,000 families in 2011 with rent, utilities, food and clothes as increasing numbers of unemployed residents are searching for aid, Cunningham said.

The Gainesville organization is still looking for volunteers to hand out clothes and toys to 1,600 children and more than 600 boxes of food to families on Dec. 18.

It can be contacted at 770-534-7589.