The missing cereal, granola bars, Hamburger Helper and canned goods could have helped a lot of people.
But the $10,000 worth of food stolen Sunday night or early Monday from a truck belonging to the nonprofit Food and Outreach Center in Fort Pierce won't be helping the people it's meant for: those trying to stretch a paycheck until it nearly snaps.
"It is very disheartening," said Jennifer Trotter, spokeswoman for the center, a combination food bank, training center and thrift store that's been in operation since 2007 and assists people in poverty in St. Lucie and southern Indian River counties.
Fort Pierce police are looking for the white truck loaded with nonperishable food — with a heart logo on its side — that vanished from the center in the 2500 block of Orange Avenue. The center is the largest of a program headquartered in Vero Beach.
The truck's disappearance was reported to police after it was discovered missing 7 a.m. Monday, a police spokesman said. The truck keys were still in the center's lockbox.
The theft took food right out of the hands of lower-income working people, Trotter said.
About 400 people a day — teachers, retirees, families, single parent families — turn to the center.
"A single parent making $44,000 a year" doesn't have a lot of money but usually that person is ineligible for food stamps, Trotter said. "A lot of people express their appreciation every day."
The center buys food at a discount — about 30 cents for a $1 item — and passes it on to qualifying people who are only asked for donations in return.
The loss dents but doesn't disable the program, she said.
Still, the center is out $10,000 in food.
The truck is insured. But in the meantime, the agency is without the vehicle it depends on for picking up food and thrift store items.
And in the case of the food bank, tragedy struck thrice.
During September, two of the center's tractor-trailer storage trucks — containing an estimated $35,000 in donated equipment — were burned, apparently by an arsonist. The fire destroyed 120 classroom desk chairs that were to be used in the center's planned expansion of an education program for people coming off welfare, Trotter said. Also destroyed were clothing display racks.
No arrests have been made.
Most of the items were replaced by donations including materials Florida Atlantic University gave when it closed classrooms in St. Lucie County, she said. The center now stores inside its building the materials that it used to put in the trucks that weren't replaced.
During July, thieves took parts from a 10-ton air conditioning unit at the headquarter's warehouse on 28th Street near U.S. 1 in Vero Beach. The unit was replaced for free by Barker Electric Air Conditioning and Heating, 1936 Commerce Ave., Vero Beach and manufacturer Trane Inc.
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