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WOODSTOCK, Ga. -- The search is on for a thief, or some thieves, who stole from a charity in Woodstock that supports children.

Last week, someone stole American flags from the Towne Lake Optimist Club.

The Optimist Club displays the flags around the community during six holidays every year, such as last week during the Fourth.

And last week someone stole five of the flags -- three from in front of Hobgood Park on Tuesday, and two from the Creekstone area on Wednesday.

The flag-displays actually raise money for children's charities that the Club supports.

Community groups and businesses and homeowners pay the Optimist Club to display the flags on their properties during the holidays, and the money raised goes to children with brain tumors, and to scholarships for young people, and to other charities for kids.

So the thief or thieves did not just steal flags from the Optimist Club.

"No, they're hurting the kids," said Matt Halloran, President of the Club, Tuesday evening. "They're hurting the children. And we can replace the flags. But we cannot replace what that flag does and means to those kids."

The community has rallied around the Optimist Club's flag program in a big way -- the flag displays are expected to raise more than $17,000 this year for children in need.

"This thing has taken on a life of its own," Halloran said. "We started it only 14 months ago.... Now we're up to 488 [flags] installed" on each of the six holidays.

Donors pay the Optimist Club $35 a year for each flag, and in return they get the flag installed on their property during the six holidays, for several days each time.

Some donors pay to have several flags displayed.

Eight members of the Club volunteer to install and remove each flag, every holiday.

"The thing that just amazes me is the patriotism that we're seeing in the community when we, in 14 months, have gone from zero to 488. And this is with about eight people in our optimist club doing this."

Since the Club has already paid for the flags, the only overhead is to replace damaged or lost or stolen flags.

As it is, 488 flags at $35 each yields just over $17,000 a year for the Club's charities, which include the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children, scholarships for the YMCA summer program, and the Teach One Lead One program that rescues at-risk children who have ended up in the juvenile justice system -- "87 percent of them never go back to court and are kept out of jail," after being in the program, Halloran said.

"It is the only fundraiser that we do," he said. "All of the money goes to the youth of Cherokee County."

Last year, thieves stole 15 flags, and 11 were returned.

"A number of them were taken back and left at church doors," Halloran said, speculating that the thieves had guilty consciences.

Three of the 15 flags were stolen by a teenager, who was caught with them and arrested.

Then he apologized.

"He did. He wrote a letter of apology. He was caught by the Sheriff, and the Sheriff and a couple of deputies came to our meeting and he came in and read the letter of apology to us with his parents. And because of that apology, and because of the sincerity that he demonstrated to us, we decided to drop the charges."

This time, the Optimist Club wants to send a message:

"It's serious business. And we are going to prosecute. We're just not going to let this go by. Because it's hurting the thing that makes us live and that is the children."

Anyone with any information about the stolen flags should call the Cherokee County Sheriff.

"Return the flags, if you will, to us," Halloran said. "Regard where they come from and what they do and what their purpose is. And in the future, just leave things alone, just leave 'em as they are, and honor the flag for what it stands for and the purposes of what we're doing here."

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