Thieves disable Raleigh vans set to deliver Hurricane Florence relief supplies

After Florence

Supplies intended for Hurricane Florence victims are stuck in building on Rock Quarry Road after thieves knocked delivery vans and trucks out of service.

The Helping Hands Mission is in need of a helping hand from some automotive repair experts after the theft of catalytic converters from four vehicles.

Helping Hands Mission Executive Director Sylvia Wiggins said members of the group’s marching band was headed to an event in an activity bus when they discovered the damage.

“The kids were all dressed, gung-ho, ready to go. Everybody was loaded up in the van. We cranked the van up and what we heard was ‘clang clang clang clang clang clang clang.’ I said ‘what in the world?’ I thought the motor had blown up,” Wiggins said.

“I got the guy, the mechanic, he went under there and he said somebody stole your catalytic converter.”

The converters contain particles of precious metals such as rhodium, platinum, and gold. The device creates a chemical reaction which converts gases in automotive exhaust into less harmful gases, which then pass through a muffler on their way out.

People scrap the metals for hundreds of dollars. Replacement repairs can cost from several hundred dollars to several thousand.

Wiggins and her small staff found three of their delivery vans and trucks – all Ford F350s – were without their catalytic converters also. The thieves tore down a chain link fence to get to two of the vehicles.

“They screwed up our activities for the kids, the marching band, the deliveries we were doing for the relief efforts,” she said.

Helping Hands volunteers took two truckloads of items to distribute to Hurricane Florence victims after the September storm.

“People have been nice enough to donate water and food and hygiene items to be distributed, and we are held accountable as to how we get these items to the people. We had vehicles, we had the people, the volunteers that were ready to do some of this stuff. This was our third run,” Wiggins said.

“We had all the stuff loaded up and before we could get in the van, they stole the catalytic converters from under there. They really hit us hard, and in the worst way, because all the things that we’re doing are surrounded on transportation and travel,” she added.

Wiggins said her team could have replaced a tire or refilled the gas tank if someone swiped those items, but the converters are things they can’t fix on their own.

For a service agency that operates on a bare-bones budget, it’s a very expensive fix, Wiggins said.

“The trucks can’t move without them, so they set us down real bad right now. We’re trying to get these trucks up and running because you know what, this is the catalyst of what we do,” she said.

Helping Hands Mission provides hundreds of fans and cooling units to low-income households each summer. The organization also distributes school supplies to families in need every fall.

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