Criminals steal thousands in tools from non-profit rebuilding N.O. homes

Tools stolen from non-profit

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Over the weekend, criminals kicked in the door of a home being rebuilt for an elderly couple and stole more than a $1,000 worth of equipment from a non-profit organization.

Since 2006, The St. Bernard Project says it has helped rebuild more than 600 homes in and around New Orleans. Volunteers agree the city is a work in progress, but admit they have dealt with their fair share of one of New Orleans' biggest problems - crime.

"It was really hard for us that first day feeling like the trust of this community project has been betrayed," St. Bernard Project site supervisor Sarah Zanolli said.

At the volunteers' Uptown home restoration, someone kicked in the door and then worked his or her way to the back of the house with bolt cutters to break into a locked boxes full of tools.

"We lost eight corded drills, three impact drivers, one regular drill, a circular saw and a shop vac along with ten extension cords, which puts us in the neighborhood of about $1,500 lost," Zanolli said.

For a non-profit, those dollars add up, especially as volunteers rush to get Etta and Melvin Baham back in their home. The elderly couple suffered damage during hurricanes Katrina and Gustav, and then fell victim to contractor fraud to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

"To have this space violated by a theft and to lose those tools and to take steps back in our production is really frustrating to our entire team, as well as to the Baham family," Zanolli said.

"It is sad that it happens so often, especially for us being a non-profit, for it happening over and over again. We only get so many tools and donations every year," volunteer Kris O'Brien said.

Keeping their equipment out of the hands of criminals is a problem for the St. Bernard Project. Tools get locked up every night, and many are shipped off site daily. Still,  Zanolli estimates at least 12 houses being rebuilt by the group have been burglarized. In the other places around the country she has helped rebuild homes, burglaries have not been an issue, she said.

"It's one of the most disheartening parts of being a New Orleanian is the crime," Zanolli said.

Many people have donated to the non-profit, but volunteers are still accepting any assistance or donations.

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