YOUNGSTOWN – Youngstown Salvation Army employee Roger Johnson was preparing to travel to area Giant Eagle supermarkets Tuesday morning to bring baked goods for customers when he quickly realized something was wrong.
The organization’s box truck, parked next to the Salvation Army building on Glenwood Avenue on the south side, normally runs very quietly. This time, however, it was at full volume with exhaust noise.
Johnson knew immediately what it was: the catalytic converter had been removed cleanly from under the large vehicle.
He then checked the Salvation Army’s 12-seat van and their emergency dispatch canteen vehicle, which looks like an ambulance, and discovered the same thing happened to them.
Johnson, a driver for the organization, was unable to pick up the donated bakery items Tuesday because no vehicle was available. He doesn’t know when he will be able to go after the items. He also doesn’t know when he’ll be able to pick up food at Second Harvest Food Bank to give to customers during food raffles.
“People will be bummed out,” Johnson said.
A man, who had come to The Salvation Army on Tuesday to collect prepared meals to take to the people he helps in the city, was watching when the thefts were discovered. He alerted The Vindicator and was still there when a reporter arrived to speak to Salvation Army personnel.
“This thing is going to hurt a lot of people,” he said. “This damn thing has to stop.”
Major Paul Moore, the Mahoning County Salvation Army coordinator with his wife, Major Sherry Moore, said he has heard of catalytic converter thefts in the area, but this is the first time it has happened in the Salvation Army. Salvation.
“It’s unfortunate, but that’s the world today,” said Paul Moore. “We see it every day. We are helping people with food. They are fighting. They appreciate everything we do, but we have desperate people.”
The struggles of low-income people increase at this time of year “because everyone wants to take care of their children and their family,” he said. “And with cold weather, utility bills go up. Money doesn’t go up anymore, but bills do. We give coats. And people need a lot at this time of year. We’re doing what we can, but it’s inflation, so some people are going to have a hard time.”
He said he doesn’t know how long the van and truck will be out of service, but he hopes Salvation Army partners at area Midas stores can help get the vehicles back into service. Midas and a local radio station help with the annual holiday toy drive by offering a free oil change at Midas stores in Boardman and Austintown for anyone who donates a toy valued at $10 or more.
Moore said the box truck is used to pick up donations, such as furniture and toys. “We use it this time of year quite often,” he said.
He said the 12-passenger van is used for the red bell campaign, mainly to bring the kettles to them and help the bell ringers get set up.
He said there is insurance on the vehicles but there will still be a cost. The emergency dispatch dining vehicle, which is old, probably won’t be repaired, she said.
Asked how the robberies make him feel, Moore said: “Frustrated, definitely frustrated, especially this time of year when that happens because we have a lot on our plates now, and that’s just another thing we have to do. And we’re short-staffed as it is. It’s not like we have 15 people. We are like six”.
Moore said one way the public can help The Salvation Army address this setback is to keep an eye out for red kettles in the coming weeks and help out. “This is an additional expense that we did not expect,” he said.
He said the organization is considering ways to keep its vehicles protected in the future.