Despite theft, Bootstraps food program perseveres

·3 min read

Aug. 6—BEVERLY — When thieves stole the catalytic converters off Beverly Bootstraps' refrigerated box truck in the middle of the night, it had the potential to disrupt the agency's food assistance program at a time of record-high demand.

But Bootstraps officials say its services will continue without interruption thanks to an outpouring from the community. In particular, the dining services at Endicott College has offered to loan a refrigerated truck to Bootstraps to enable the agency to continue to pick up the thousands of pounds of food that it dispenses every week.

"It's amazing," Bootstraps food assistance supervisor Beth Bahret said on Friday. "I've been returning phone calls all morning from people trying to help. The outpouring and the support from the community has just been a beautiful, beautiful thing."

The theft of the catalytic converters took place about 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, according to Bootstraps Executive Director Sue Gabriel. Gabriel said two men cut the catalytic converters from the bottom of the truck when it was parked in the parking lot at Bootstraps on Park Street. She said the incident was caught by security cameras, and the video has been turned over to police.

Gabriel said the loss of the refrigerated box truck threatened Bootstraps' food assistance program at a time when its food pantry is experiencing its highest demand in the agency's 30-year history. The truck is used to pick up thousands of pounds of food per week at the Greater Boston Food Bank in Boston and a satellite location in Salem, as well as fresh produce in Chelsea, and bring it to Bootstraps' food pantry. The truck is also used to support mobile markets in which Bootstraps goes out to local housing complexes and senior citizen apartments in Beverly.

Gabriel said it could take a while to get the catalytic convertors replaced. Thefts of the emissions-control devices from under vehicles have skyrocketed across the country due to the increasing value of precious metals in the devices that can be sold on the black market, according to a report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Beverly police Chief John LeLacheur said police are going through videotapes from security cameras from adjacent businesses and from MBTA cameras at the nearby railroad tracks. LeLacheur said Beverly has not had a lot of catalytic converter thefts but has recently had reports of a couple of them.

"I don't know if people who are working other areas of the state are starting to move into this region, but it's something we have to be aware of," he said.

Bahret said many people offered to help pick up food after hearing about the loss of the truck. But she said Bootstraps needs a refrigerated truck to handle large pallets of food. That's where Endicott College came through with its offer.

Bahret said she's hoping that guests who visit the food pantry when it opens on Monday morning will have everything they need.

"The timing of this is just so unfortunate because we are seeing record numbers now come through our food pantry," she said. "But we want to make it seamless for our guests at the food pantry and those who use our services. The show must go on."

Staff Writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at pleighton@salemnews.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.