TACOMA - Tacoma Police Department is looking for a burglar who trashed a food bank, leaving behind a sickening calling card. St. Leo’s Food Connection is recovering from vandalism that forced critical services to close for all of Wednesday.
About 500 people per day go to the food bank to get help putting food on the table. Those hundreds of clients could not get what they needed because staff had shut down the building to clean up after a vandal.
Executive director Lisa Gallegos said staff came in early Wednesday morning to a mess at the food bank. She said a male suspect stole three laptops, broke a chair, and defecated all over the floor in their main office.
"Oh, it feels like your home was violated. You have that moment of unsafety, you’re not sure about what’s happening," said Gallegos.
Food Connection hired a biohazard cleaning crew to clear the waste and remove the carpet. Staff closed the food bank to work all day and night sanitizing the building.
"A lot of us yesterday were really hesitant about coming back to work today. Our home was violated like Lisa said. Somebody came in here, they did pretty terrible things and it wasn’t a great feeling," said Caroline Comfort, the food bank’s manager.
Just when they were feeling defeated, word spread quickly throughout the community. The people of Tacoma stepped up to do what they do best.
"We’ve had truckloads of food, we’ve had people bringing in checks, we’ve had people calling and asking how they can volunteer with us. The outpouring of love and support is just, it’s unbelievable. It’s reenergized us," said Comfort.
On Thursday, the food bank was back open for business serving its clients.
Comfort mentioned the suspect was seen on surveillance video touching food throughout the building, so a few hundred pounds of food had to be thrown away. By Thursday afternoon, donations from the public replenished the food that was trashed. The biggest gift received so far is a $5,000 check from the Korum for Kids Foundation.
"Love the 253 and we stick together and we’re going to keep on doing it and get through this together," said Sophia Hall, director of Korum For Kids Foundation.
Had it not been for the public’s generosity, Food Connection staff said the building would have been closed for a few days. Now they’re back open helping people put food on their tables.
"We do kind of a quiet job. We’re down here, we’ve been down here for years, we don’t make a lot of fuss. And to know that this many people genuinely care about what we do is just amazing," said Comfort.
"If we could hug them all, we would in heartbeat. We’re sending virtual hugs to everybody," said Gallegos.
One of the many services Food Connection offers is its Children Feeding program. Every week, it provides free meals for 1,200 kids on free or reduced school lunch with enough food to last them a full weekend. With all of the community donations from the incident, children will receive even more food this weekend and the next coming weeks.
Gallegos said the suspect is not one of their known clients. She said her team is increasing security measures to prevent the incident from happening again. Tacoma police are reviewing the food bank’s surveillance video and continuing the investigation.