LUMBERTON — Darlene Jacobs’ Wednesday began with an unpleasant surprise.
The executive director at Robeson County Church and Community Center in Lumberton arrived at the nonprofit to discover that the church’s two vans had been vandalized and can no longer be driven. Now the agency that is always lending a hand needs one.
The vans, which were parked in a gated lot behind the building at 500 W. Fifth St., both had extensive interior damage. The casing surrounding the steering wheel in both vehicles had been removed to reveal ignition wiring and other important fixtures.
They weren’t able to drive off in the vans, but the vandals caused enough damage to nearly total the vehicles, an assessment Jacobs was given by insurance inspectors.
“We got really discouraged,” Jacobs said. “We’ve had them (the vans) for about 10 years. They’ve been real valuable to our mission teams.”
Police are investigating.
The center has security cameras, but the crimes were not captured on video.
The intruders busted the padlock on the gate that secured the vans, which were separated by a small walk-in freezer and a Ford Lincoln, also owned by the center.
The vandals smashed one window on each van in order to gain access. Jacobs said there was no evidence of tampering with the Lincoln.
Jeff Taylor, a housing assistant at the center, said the gear shifter in one of the vans had been removed.
Jacobs said the vans were donated to the center. Replacing them will be difficult because the center relies primarily on donations to pay the bills and provide help in the community.
“We don’t have the luxury of having $100,000 in reserve funding,” Jacobs said.
The vans were used to haul food, supplies, construction materials and other resources to benefit the needy.
“We’ve got no way to haul anything,” Taylor said.
While decisions are made regarding what to do about the vans, Jacobs said the center will rely on volunteers to assist with transporting materials.
She also said the center is looking for help from the community, whether through donations or volunteerism, as either option will help mitigate the effects of losing the vans.
People seeking assistance for a variety of issues are routinely helped by Jacobs and her staff.
“We help those just getting out of prison, in domestic violence cases, and other situations,” Jacobs said.
The ultimate goal is to extend generosity to those who need it.
“You’re trying to be as good as you can to people,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs is confident the center will continue to receive the support it needs to keep operating effectively.
Anyone interested in learning more about the center or willing to help should call 910-738-5204.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected]