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Church, police find middle ground in shopping cart dispute

One day after Medford police seized several shopping carts from a Medford church food pantry, police helped the church get back on its wheels.

First Presbyterian Church Pastor Murray Richmond spent Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning up in arms after police seized four shopping carts from Alba Park during the church’s weekly ACCESS food drive.

The carts bore the names of Safeway, Walmart, Big Lots and Linens ‘N Things, leading police to the conclusion the carts were stolen.

But Richmond said the carts had belonged to the church for more than a decade, leading to a heated exchange at the police station, where Richmond said he insisted he be arrested.

“Basically we were told we stole them,” Richmond said.

Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said no arrests were made, but he confirmed that Richmond was “super angry” after an officer seized the carts from the park. Budreau said officers have seized hundreds of similar carts from the park.

“They were clearly marked,” Budreau said, adding that police officers aren’t in a position to discern ownership beyond looking at the name of the store on the cart.

By Thursday afternoon, however, Medford police had come up with a solution, according to Budreau.

Police will give the church several shopping carts that officers have recovered, but which don’t have store names on them.

Police will also return a seized cart from Linens ‘N Things, a housewares store that closed more than a decade ago.

Budreau said the intent of a shopping cart law in place since April 2018 is to hold stores accountable for mislaid carts by fining stores. The Linens ‘N Things cart falls outside the ban because the cart came from a store that went out of business.

Budreau said he doesn’t anticipate Medford police collecting every shopping cart for local churches and charities.

“I think this is a one-time deal,” Budreau said.

Richmond said he’s happy with the outcome.

“We’re happy,” Richmond said. “A day of frustration, but a happy ending.”

Richmond said the church uses the shopping carts for its weekly ACCESS food bank program. He said the church has had the carts for more than a decade, but how the church originally got them predates Richmond — he’s been pastor since 2014.

“I’ve talked to people who’ve been doing this for 10 years, and (the carts) have been here as long as they’ve been there,” Richmond said.

The church uses its collection of roughly 10 carts in the food pantry, which Wednesday helped feed 72 households, or about 185 people, Richmond said. Pantry shoppers load canned food into the carts like they’re at a grocery store, and then a church volunteer with an engraved name tag will help the person load their bags into their vehicle. The cart stays with a volunteer the entire time.

When police seized the carts Wednesday, volunteers were using them to transport groceries through Alba Park.

Richmond said he plans to propose an exemption to the shopping cart law for nonprofits at the next Medford City Council meeting.

“We’re not every person in Alba Park,” Richmond said. “We’re a church.”

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

First Presbyterian Church of Medford pastor Murray Richmond stands near shopping carts used at the church food pantry after police seized similar carts Wednesday afternoon. Medford police will give the church other carts. Mail Tribune / Nick Morgan