Burglars hit Mount Vernon soup kitchen 3 times in 3 weeks

NEWS12 WESTCHESTER: The soup kitchen at Sacred Heart Church in Mount Vernon has been closed indefinitely after being burglarized three times in less than three weeks. (Oct. 10, 2012)

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Someone is souring the milk of human kindness at a Mount Vernon soup kitchen.

A burglar or burglars have targeted the charity run by Community Service Associates at Sacred Heart Church three times in the last three weeks, and the facility has now shut down for the second time as officials deal with damage to the building and lost food and equipment.

"It's so disheartening," said Roberta Apuzzo, the group's executive director. "I've been here 18 years and I've never seen anything like this."

Among the items taken in the burglary spree at the South Fifth Avenue soup kitchen: water bottles, the facility's printer, fax machine and scanner, a vacuum cleaner, garbage bags and food.

In the most recent burglary, which Apuzzo believes happened Sunday night or early Monday, the intruders broke a window and ransacked the building's offices. "Now it's just vicious," Apuzzo said. "They're breaking windows and destroying things. ... They're leaving food out to rot. I found pounds and pounds of bologna that had been left out to spoil."

The soup kitchen on South Fifth Avenue has been serving the city's south side for 26 years, Apuzzo said. It feeds about 50 people at breakfast, provides brown bag lunches to 50 and provides dinner to 100 people four days a week, Tuesday through Friday, she said. It had to temporarily close after the first two break-ins and now will be shuttered again until Tuesday, Apuzzo said.

"We've lost thousands of dollars of food. It's a lot to recoup," Apuzzo said. "We're at a low point in funding resources, like many people are these days. We get very little from the city, from the state, from the county. We mostly rely on donors."

Who could be behind the break-ins? "I think it's somebody who knows who we are and what we do," Apuzzo said. "We have no security system and they know that."

Some members of the community are reaching out to help, Apuzzo said. A few people have inquired about donating a security system and a member of the local Rotary Club has offered his spare printer to replace the stolen one, she said.

And an enterprising Pelham youngster is getting in on it, too. Christopher Rhodes, 9, has collected more than $1,000 worth of cereal for the soup kitchen, News12 reported. He recently volunteered to work at the kitchen, but decided to do more for the needy who depend on the hot meals.

Rhodes started a cereal drive and handed out 300 fliers at school. He also enlisted a few classmates to help call the school's families to urge them to donate.

He's "very upset" about the burglaries, Apuzzo said, and she issued a plea to the south Mount Vernon community.

"I'm sure somebody knows what's going on and we're asking people to please go out and find out who did it."

Calls to Mount Vernon city officials and police were not returned Wednesday.

Donations can be sent to Community Service Associates, 115 Sharpe Blvd. South, Mount Vernon, NY 10550. Phone: 914-668-1428.

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