Thief steals van from Gateway-area charity

Would you risk getting cut up on razor wire, climbing over a 10-foot-high chain link fence to steal a truck? See why this particular truck, used to pick up food for the needy to be given away at the PACS Food Bank, is urgently needed – and how you can help …

Brian Vistaunet, with Portland Adventist Community Services, looks at the damage a criminal caused when he hotwired their van, and battered down this sturdy security fence.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
No organization does more to help the disadvantaged in outer East Portland than Portland Adventist Community Services (PACS), located on NE Halsey Stree, in the Hazelwood Neighborhood.

Yet, for the second time in a year, a heartless thief has stolen one of the trucks the organization uses to pick up donations to stock their Food Pantry. It happened sometime in the early morning hours of Friday, July 23.

“Our Food Distribution Manager, Ron Meisner, got here at 6:55 this morning, and found the gate and the security fence in a big pile,” PACS’ development director, Brian Vistaunet told us, as we gazed at the twisted pile of metal and concrete. “And, our van was missing. We assume that someone climbed in over the top of the gate, got into the van, and then drove it through the gate to get out.”

The crime was nearly identical to one that took place in September of 2009, Vistaunet observed. With “concertina razor” atop the tall steel chain-link fence, it was obvious that PACS had taken precautions to keep their trucks safe. “It seems like such a pain to get over that security fence to get in there; it doesn’t seem worth the trouble,” he mused.

Lidiya Gavrilenko, PACS Supervisor, Ron Meisner, PACS food service manager, and volunteers Bittany Abelein and Stella Vaeona, prepare food donations to be given to families in need.

Theft hurts mission of charity food bank
“Before the economy went bad, we saw 50 or 60 families a day, five days a week,” said Meisner. “Now it’s 100 families – or more – every day; even more at the end of the month, when families run out of food stamps and other help. We’re the largest distributor of food for the Oregon Food Bank.”

But, for fresh foods and bakery items, Meisner told us that they also depend on the generosity of grocery chains. “We use the trucks to pick up food from several Safeway, Fred Meyer, and Trader Joe’s stores – and other retailers. We still have our big trucks; we use the van for some of our shorter, closer donation runs. We’re scrambling right now to figure out how to handle that, come Monday morning.”

Their big trucks pick up cases of nonperishable foods; but often, they use the van to gather fresh bakery items, destined for the needy like these rolls.

Forgiving, but disappointed
“We’re disappointed when something like this happens,” Vistaunet added. “It always makes us a little disappointed and a bit angry. But we believe in forgiveness here.  We are praying for the folks who did it, and that somehow they’ll be inspired to move toward a better life.”

Because PACS pours donations into food-pantry and medical services, their budget is always tight, Vistaunet acknowledged. “Hopefully, we can get the use of a temporary vehicle; someone in the community might offer to help. We were able to purchase our vehicles through donations; folks can make a donation to the organization on our website.”

Be on the lookout: Someone’s driving this 1991 Ford E150 van, with Oregon plates “598 CSL”. Call the Portland Police Bureau’s non-emergency line if you see it parked: (503) 823-3333 – or if you see it being driven, call 9-1-1. PACS photo

The PACS Food Pantry takes aim at hunger by providing short-term food supplies to struggling families. In 2010 so far, 76,051 low-income people have received food assistance from the PACS Food Pantry.

For more information, or especially to make a donation, visit their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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