The Salvation Army told Channel 2's Eric Philips they put out an alert across Metro Atlanta for Ernest Mize, 41, who it believed may have been trying to illegally collect donations after walking off the job with Salvation Army property last Friday.
Lt. Matt Cunningham of the Salvation Army told Philips that Mize, also known as Ernest Jackson, prematurely packed up his post and left with the kettle and cash. It was his first day on the job.
Surveillance video from a Walmart in Hall County showed Mize, who was a paid employee, walk off with the equipment about 6:15 p.m., three hours before his shift ended.
"When he came to us we carefully screened him and he seemed like a guy who needed a hand up, not a handout," said Cunningham.
Cunningham told Philips that Mize apparently lied on his application, omitting former felonies.
"We didn't know that at the time or we would not have hired him," said Cunningham.
Investigators estimate the kettle contained between $200 and $400, amounting to a misdemeanor, but they're looking into increasing the charges.
Police said Mize did not have the kettle when they arrested him, and claimed to have no knowledge of the theft.
"Common sense will tell you if something doesn't look right, don't give the money to that individual," said Danny Sridej with the Oakwood Police Department.
"In the Christmas spirit, I want Ernest to do the right thing," said Cunningham. "We have 1,600 kids who are coming to us for Christmas this year and then you have someone like this who is the Grinch, tries to steal."
The Salvation Army told Philips that people should be aware that they do not collect on Sundays or after 9 p.m.