Metal thieves hit Red Cross air conditioner

The Stanislaus County chapter of the American Red Cross has been hit by a string of burglaries that has bitten into finances and spirits.

Executive Director Rebecca Ciszek said she discovered the most recent loss Wednesday morning when the heater didn't work at the nonprofit's Sixth Street headquarters. Somebody had torn apart the rooftop air conditioning and heating unit, presumably to sell the copper parts, leaving it beyond repair.

"I know it isn't just us," Ciszek said. "Other nonprofits have been ravaged as well. And it's so heartbreaking because we are serving the community, and this takes away resources to serve the community."

Modesto's First United Methodist Church suffered a similar loss last weekend. Parishioners bundled up for Sunday's service after thieves stole copper coils from an air-conditioning unit and damaged the building's heating system in the process. Insurance likely will pay for repairs or to replace the unit, but the church has to cover a $500 or $1,000 deductible. A church official estimated a new unit could cost $1,800.

Ciszek said estimates she has received suggest the unit will cost $5,800 to replace. She said the Red Cross has a $2,500 deductible. She said the charity is looking for donations or someone willing to donate an air-conditioner and heating unit. She said the burglars also cut through the Red Cross' fence, which has to be repaired.

Ciszek said the Red Cross and other businesses in the Sixth Street neighborhood are looking at banding together to form a Neighborhood Watch.

The burglary follows other problems in December, Ciszek said, pointing out their fence was cut and someone broke the lock on their shed but didn't take anything. Burglars also damaged the Red Cross' emergency vehicle, a retired ambulance that delivers coffee and food to disasters, and its passenger van.

Ciszek said the van and emergency vehicle now are kept at the Modesto fire station at McHenry and Briggsmore avenues.

"That is wonderful and nice that they are there, but it means that we can't just load it and go," she said. "It's just sad. And it's so disruptive. You come in to do business for the day, and then you end up spending half the day doing something that doesn't help our community."

Those who would like to help the Red Cross can call Ciszek at 523-6451.

Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at imiller@modbee.com or 578-2324.