Photo via Maryland Book Bank/Facebook

It was a bittersweet moment learning the Maryland Book Bank’s van had been returned this morning, said the nonprofit’s program manager, Kim Crout.

On one hand, the vehicle the organization has used for years to gather and donate books for schools and families statewide was back after going missing for 10 days. On the other, it was in shambles, sporting a busted-out back window, a poorly doctored license plate and gold spray paint and pages from a book about artist Vincent Van Gogh smattered across its body. In a flippant alteration, the words “Van Go” were sprayed onto the hood.

“That was like my only chuckle of the day, honestly,” Crout said.

This morning, the nonprofit heard from another tenant at their Woodberry warehouse building that the vehicle was back in its parking spot outside. It was reported stolen July 23.

After the theft, the organization set up a GoFundMe raising $40,000 for a new van, and locals spread the word. People listened, and in two days’ time have already given more than $6,000.

Asked why the thieves would bother to return the van more than a week later, Crout gave credit to Baltimoreans who shared their plight. “My personal guess… is I think that the community really picked it up and ran with it more than we expected it to.”

And given that the thief (or thieves) attempted to permanently change a seven into a three by crudely scratching out part of the digit on the license plate, she speculates they may have initially planned to keep it, but had a change of heart. “I think that the person got maybe a little bit nervous, or they started to feel a little remorseful about it.”

The van, pre-theft and vandalization. Photo via Maryland Book Bank/Facebook.

The ordeal isn’t over. Crout estimates the literacy-promoting organization must still shell out at least $5,000 on repairs, including repainting and recovering the van with its signature branding and replacing the back window and the ignition switch.

Crout said staff have told GoFundMe donors their donations will be returned since they’ve gotten the van back—the fundraiser’s purpose was to replace it completely—but a number of them have already messaged back and asked that they keep their money.

“It’s been incredibly humbling and just overwhelming, the amount of support we’ve gotten.”

The GoFundMe will remain up until next week, after which money will be automatically returned to donors who don’t otherwise specify that they want to help pay for the repairs.

“Integrity is really important to us, so we just want to be really upfront with people about where their donations are going,” she said.

Those who do want to help out can reach the nonprofit here, or via the online fundraiser.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...