Soup kitchen group plundered again BALTIMORE CITY

August 10, 1993|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

When volunteers arrived at the Midtown Churches Community Association on East 25th Street to prepare breakfast for the needy yesterday, they discovered that the group's offices had been burglarized over the weekend.

Officials said it was the third burglary in the last month at the association, which runs one of Baltimore's oldest soup kitchens. In addition, Brown's Memorial Baptist Church in Northwest Baltimore, where Midtown operates a year-round homeless shelter, has been broken into twice since mid-June.

At Midtown yesterday, Northern District police officers turned away the needy and homeless, some of whom had been waiting in line for the free breakfast that is served Monday through Friday. Inside, other officers dusted the kitchen and dining room for fingerprints.

But the real damage was upstairs, where files had been dumped on the floor after the thief or thieves had pried a grate off a third-story window then entered and ransacked the offices. Although there was no cash on the premises, computers, a fax machine, portable tape players and "everything that wasn't nailed down" was taken, said Esther Reaves, Midtown's executive director.

And, while Midtown workers don't expect to see their office equipment again, they would like to have the reams of statistics in the stolen computers. They need those to write grant proposals to obtain funds for future projects.

"It's just depressing," Ms. Reaves said in a telephone interview from Ocean City, where she is on vacation. "They literally went through every office. Every file and all our contracts are on the floor. Everything that was movable, they got."

For program director Shirley Price, the sad part was having to shut down for the day.

"There was a man lying there, asleep, and we had to turn him away," she said. "You know what you have to tell yourself? The people we serve, they deal with this day in, day out. Their fragile belongings, their little bags of things, are taken in the street so I guess we're no better off than they are."

Midtown has been working on getting a security system since back-to-back break-ins in July, both Ms. Reaves and Ms. Price said. Those thieves entered through windows, bashed in doors throughout the building and made off with about $500 in cash and a fax machine.

Brown's Memorial Baptist Church, in the 3200 block of W. Belvedere Ave., has installed an electronic security system, and church secretary Joyce Howard is convinced that has safeguarded the church since it was burglarized in mid-June and the first week in July. A television-VCR was taken during the first break-in and some walkie-talkies used by volunteer security guards were stolen in the second incident.

"The alarm was tripped once [since it was installed] and the police were there in minutes," Ms. Howard said.

The string of burglaries hits Midtown when it's already down. The nonprofit agency, which has an operating budget of about $1 million a year, has had trouble keeping pace with the ever-increasing demand for its services.

Earlier this year, Midtown decided it could no longer afford to operate its two winter-time homeless shelters. And Manna House, its soup kitchen, now serves meals only five days a week, after nearly 20 years of providing daily meals in the Barclay area.

No arrests have been made. "I know for a fact that whoever did this is not one of our clients," Ms. Reaves said. "The people we serve are homeless and hungry and poor, but they're not criminals."

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