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LIBERTY, Mo. — Criminals have been picking on local church groups.

Thieves targeted two local churches in the last month, but what they stole isn’t exactly what you might expect.

They didn’t try to break in. Instead, they stole thousands of grapes from one church’s vineyard and nearby orchard. Volunteers grow, harvest and use the fruits during Sunday services or give them to local food pantries.

Mike Kern, pastor at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Liberty, said it was time for their annual harvest. It’s a celebration after worship that the kids especially look forward to every year.

But instead, there was only shock and disappointment.

“We came outside to find that there were no grapes,” Kern said.

That’s 1,500 pounds of grapes — all stolen.

“We’ve had bugs and birds and things like that, but never theft,” the local pastor said.

Kern said it looks like someone cut the grapes from the vines. The crooks must have had a plan since they managed to tow that much fruit from the church parking lot.

This was expected to be one of their biggest harvests to date. Instead it will be a loss of about $1,500. But church leaders said it’s not really about the money.

“This wasn’t really about theft of grapes,” Kern said. “We don’t care about the value. It was more of a theft of joy. We love doing this. We love the kids coming out and having fun.”

From the vine to bottled wine served on Sundays, it’s been a tradition for about 15 years.

“The process of harvesting the grapes is probably the best part of the tradition,” said Robert Hall, president of Hosanna Lutheran.

And this church isn’t the only one that’s been targeted.

Kern got a call from St. Peter and All Saints Episcopal Church in Kansas City, saying four of their apple and pear trees were recently wiped clean, too. That was a harvest that was three or four years in the making.

“They were brimming with fruit,” the Rev. Jonathan Frazier with St. Peter and All Saints said.

Frazier said the fruit was going to neighbors in need. They donate to the Community Assistance Council, a nearby pantry, and Rescue KC, a downtown homeless shelter.

“So it’s just really sad because for somebody to take that quantity of fruit, they’re probably going to sell it,” he said.

Kern said these acts highlight the hard times some people are facing through this pandemic. But instead of getting angry about the stolen fruit, they’re encouraging others to donate to local food pantries.

“Let’s be community rather than kind of sabotaging each other,” Kern said.

The Liberty pastor filed a police report. If you have any information, call the Liberty Police Department.