Burglars Plunder Food From Charity

By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 4, 2008

Empty, upended boxes were all that remained of neatly stacked cases of canned tuna, spaghetti sauce and beef stew. That's how the food bank volunteers knew the Alexandria facility where they store canned goods for some of the area's neediest had been cleaned out by thieves.

More than 1,000 pounds of canned goods was stolen from the food bank at a time when demand has soared and supplies are dwindling.

"To lose this much food in a theft is disheartening, to say the least," said Gerry Hebert, president of Alexandrians Involved Ecumenically, or Alive. "My first thought was, 'What are we going to do for getting food to people in the short term?'

"And then you get angry that someone would steal from the poor."

The organization, which delivers food to an estimated 12,000 people a year, is not sure when the food was taken, only that it was last seen at the end of February and gone by the end of March.

Alexandria police Lt. Ray Hazel said the theft was reported Wednesday. He said it appears to have been a crime of opportunity.

"If it's there, and the wrong person sees it, they might set a plan in action," Hazel said.

Alive keeps much of its food at a pantry in the space it rents at a local church but uses a warehouse owned by the city to store excess items.

The organization's members hope to replace the food, Hebert said, but they're not sure where they would store it now.

"Do we put it in the same place, where someone can just steal it again?" Hebert asked. "That's the problem."

The timing couldn't be worse, officials said, with talk of a recession and more people struggling to pay for basic necessities.

Brian Smith, chief operating officer of the Capital Area Food Bank, which has 700 member groups across the region, said there have been more calls recently to the hunger lifeline that the food bank uses to refer people to local agencies for help.

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