Thieves target food pantry air-conditioning units


Air-conditioner theft isn't a new problem for the volunteers at St. Vincent DePaul's food pantry. In fact, two years ago, several A/C units were hit by thieves.

They couldn't afford to add security systems to all of the A/C units up on the roof. When thieves came back, they hit the six that weren't protected. This week, the group was forced to take money normally used to help those in need to help keep the building cool.

Serving more than 3,000 families a week, the volunteers at St. Vincent DePaul's food pantry on the city's east side like to focus on food. This week that will not happen: "Every dollar we spend in the facility is a dollar we don't have to help people," said Pat Jerrell.

Half of the air conditioning units the 60,000-square-foot food pantry used to rely on are gone after copper thieves scaled the roof in the spring and stole what they wanted. Now the faith-based organization is finally getting new ones at a cost of about $50,000.

Jerrell said, "It is very frustrating. It is an uncontrolled cost."

With some of the air-conditioning units out for the last few months, the volunteers have been forced to work in the heat. In fact, in one side of the building, it's been hotter than 80 degrees in the business office.

Pat Jerrell is frustrated: "I know a number of desperate people out there doing desperate things. And you are adversely impacting the community."

Bill Nelson explains the A/C alarm options to Eyewitness News: "This puts a signal out if the line gets cut and the unit loses pressure."

Nelson is back to help the food pantry. All the new A/C units will be secured: "If they don't, they are going to be hit again."

But, an extra "gadget" costs extra money. A basic security device attached to your A/C unit runs between $200 and $300 if you already have an alarm. Still, this alarm expert shows us copper theft after copper theft. In fact, his own business wasn't immune. 

Metro Police tell Eyewitness News that the number of thefts often goes up when the price of copper goes up. The alarm expert says while homes aren't targeted as much as businesses, but it still might be time to protect your cool air.

Metro Police remind us that in Marion County a local ordinance doesn't allow for the sale or purchase of scrap metal.  Police say that means several thieves are taking those items to scrap yards outside the county to get money.

The alarm expert we talked with says he'd like to see a state law making it much tougher for thieves to sell scrap metal everywhere.