London CNN  — 

Thousands of prints by the street artist STIK, which were intended to be distributed as a gift to London residents after months of hardship during the coronavirus pandemic, have been stolen, police said on Tuesday.

STIK had arranged for 100,000 copies of his artwork “Holding Hands” to be sent to residents in the northeast London borough of Hackney free of charge, distributing them through the local newspaper Hackney Today.

But after many locals said they never received a print, the graffiti artist’s studio discovered the works being sold online.

Police have launched an investigation and a “large amount” of the prints remain unaccounted for, the Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

“After everything residents have gone through recently with Covid-19 and lockdown, STIK’s intention was for every household in Hackney to have a single copy of the poster as a gift to either keep or sell,” the police said.

Stik at a viewing of his work in 2012.

“These artworks were intended as a gift to the people of Hackney, any which are returned will be re-distributed to those who missed out,” the artist added.

The 2016 artwork features two stick figures holding hands, and is printed on different colored backgrounds.

Police said STIK paid “a substantial amount of money” himself to meet the printing costs required to distribute the work around Hackney.

“It appears at this stage that somewhere along the supply and distribution chain, boxes containing thousands of copies of the print have been taken without permission and sold on,” James Readman of the Met Police’s Central East Command Unit said.

STIK is known for painting simplistic scenes featuring stick figures with wide bodies.

The artist, whose work appears across London, once painted a giant mural on the side of a condemned tower block in Ealing, west London.

“STIK’s posters were intended as a gift for Hackney’s residents after months of huge uncertainty and challenge. It is therefore disappointing to learn that an individual or group of individuals has chosen to steal them for personal gain,” Hackney Council said.

“This has left residents who missed out upset and we are grateful to STIK and to everyone who has worked hard on the delivery of these posters and will do all we can to have them returned.”