CANTON, Ohio — As the executive director of StarkFresh, Tom Phillips is used to helping people.
“Our mission is tackling causes of hunger by creating realistic pathways out of poverty. We do it all with a food spin and it’s usually all around food access,” he said.
The nonprofit organization, located in Canton, accomplishes that through its Mobile Grocery Market, affordable grocery store, seed library and other services.
Bridget Johnson, the grocery store manager, benefits from StarkFresh’s service, herself.
“I also live in lower income housing. It means a lot to me. I can come here and get 20 dollars worth of groceries and leave home with 2 bags. I have triplet boys, they eat me out of the house,” she said. “I was amazed at the prices and the quality of food I can get real cheap and they matched my EBT, that was out of this world.”
But Monday morning, when Phillips arrived at StarkFresh’s headquarters, he was one the one calling police for help.
“We came into work on Monday morning and realized that our fleet of vehicles, which involves our Mobile Grocery Market and our backup delivery and pickup vehicles, all had their catalytic converters missing,” he said.
Through surveillance video he discovered that early Sunday morning a group of thieves cut their chain linked fence and stole the converters.
“The police said they were in and out very quickly. They knew exactly what they were doing,” he commented.
The Mobile Grocery Market is an integral part of the operations. It provides healthy, affordable food to more than 100 customers throughout Stark County, who can’t necessarily make it out to a brick-and-mortar store.
“The whole point of that is to go places where people have mobility challenges throughout the county and are low income. We end up at a lot of high rises, senior complexes and it’s a rolling grocery store. It’s a bus style, so they walk on the bus to do their shopping and have their groceries for the week,” Philips said.
Phillips filed a police report and gave surveillance footage to investigators.
Johnson said it was disheartening to hear the news of the theft.
“How can anybody do that? We are here to help everyone and for you to come in and do this, you’re messing with a lot of people,” she noted.
Phillips was upset over the theft, but more upset that he couldn’t get groceries to the people who rely on it throughout the week.
“Because there’s been so many thefts of these things and parts are hard to come by, it’s just been a real pain to get any sort of urgency when there’s such a backlog,” he said. “You feel a little violated, then you’re frustrated, then angry and then you start thinking ‘what can we do to be able to still function and get the food to the people who need it?' It’s a rolling grocery store, it has refrigerators in it and freezers, it’s not like you can get in a car and go.”
The converter they need for the Mobile Grocery Market has to be ordered from Texas, and he hopes that next week it will be business as usual, but wants the thieves to know that they stole from far more people than just StarkFresh.
“We rely on donations and volunteers. We aren’t in this for the money and when you do something like this it affects the people that we are helping, not just us,” he said.
If you’d like to donate to StarkFresh just click here.