Thieves who broke into a Salvation Army Church hall under the cover of darkness and stole from "those most in need" committed what has been called a devastating and disgusting crime.
The culprits took up to a dozen boxes of food collected for Christmas appeal foodbank donations stored in the church's youth hall on Old Taupo Rd overnight on Tuesday.
Rotorua Daily Post readers posting comments on Facebook reacted strongly describing the culprits as "rats" and "lowest of the lowest".
Salvation Army Captain Amanda Martin said the break-in was devastating.
"It's disgusting really - all the effort which goes into the appeal and some swine comes and steals it."
Mrs Martin said boxes of Roses chocolates and soft drinks were among the takings, pointing at possibly youth being involved.
Staff noticed water on the floor near a freezer when they arrived for work about 9am yesterday.
The freezer had been rifled of 24 size-16 frozen chickens, Mrs Martin said.
Also stolen were boxes of chocolates, soft drink and grape juice, and several sacks of potatoes.
Two large clear footprints had also been left on a chair inside the hall.
"It could be anyone but the footprints look like adult size shoes," she said.
The hall was used as an intermediary storage for foodbank appeal collections before the donations were stored in a locked and security-alarmed room elsewhere in the building.
"We didn't have an alarm in the youth hall because it would have been regularly set off by wind, we were told," she said.
The rest of the building is fully alarmed and controlled three times a night by security patrols.
Mrs Martin said the thieves might have known what time the patrols checked the building.
The thieves scaled a wall and climbed onto a flat roof before removing louvres high in the roof line of the hall and dropping down inside.
They broke open a double door to leave the hall, stashing some of the boxes under shrubbery alongside the church.
Police were investigating the break-in.
Two "distinct" types of shoe tread were noticeable on the roof near the louvres.
"They are taking from their own community," Mrs Martin said. "Times are tough for many people - you don't have to add to it."
Rotorua police crime manager Inspector Ed Van Den Broek called the thieves "lowlifes".
"It's pretty disappointing. That is food earmarked for people who are struggling, not for lowlifes to help themselves to."