Copper thieves target Salvation Army & River Food Pantry - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Copper thieves target Salvation Army & River Food Pantry

MADISON (WKOW) -- The Salvation Army and the River Food Pantry are without air conditioning, after someone stole the copper from their conditioning units.

The Salvation Army discovered the missing parts when their A/C stopped working in the gym at the Darbo Community Center on the east side last week. Property manager Larry Peterson says they estimate the theft happened the weekend of June 8th and 9th.

Peterson says four lengths of 2 inch copper pipe was taken, which will cost about $6,200 to repair, along with an uncomfortable situation when the group's summer kids' program begins on Monday.

"We'll be dealing with somewhere between 40-50 children," says Peterson. "We do have programs outside for them, but we do use the gym as a cooling area where they come and cool off and of course we have the basketball, so it's a really important part of our program."

Most of that cost will be covered by insurance, but Salvation Army must now think about how to prevent future thefts. The agency is considering a more secure enclosure for the A/C unit. Peterson says about three years ago, a similar copper theft happened at the same unit and the Salvation Army added a fence, hoping to keep people out.

Down the road at River Food Pantry, organizers are dealing with a similar problem. Founder Jenny Czerkas says a client spotted some serious damage to their three A/C units on the side of the pantry warehouse on June 7th. Czerkas suspects the theft happened the night before, just a few days before the Salvation Army theft.

Czerkas says the heat has really gotten to staff, volunteers and clients who visit the pantry every day.

"It's important for us to keep it at a safe temperature for the elderly or people that are more frail and not as healthy who use the pantry," she says. "We need to keep safe temps just to keep the food fresher and better tasting."

River Food Pantry's damage is expected to cost up to $11,000, including the cost to move two of the A/C units up to the roof to keep them out of thieves' reach. The third will have a new cage around it to be inaccessible.

Both agencies are expecting out of pocket costs that will affect and possibly limit their services this summer. 

If you'd like to help, visit Salvation Army's website for more information about their summer Kettle Drive in July, and visit River Food Pantry's website to find out how you can donate.

Madison police spokesperson Joel DeSpain says copper thefts have been a problem for a number of years. Most businesses or homeowners don't realize anything's wrong until they turn on their A/C when it gets warm out. 

DeSpain says the department works with local scrap yards, so workers keep an eye out for suspicious people looking to swap copper for cash.

27 News reached out to a Madison scrap yard to find out how much thieves are actually getting. Workers say the current market only offers about $2.50 per pound of the highest quality copper, which doesn't amount to much per pipe.

Workers say they're always on the lookout for suspicious people coming in, and keeping on top of theft alerts from the city.

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