NORTH FORK – Once again Grace Community Church has been the victim of a break-in and burglary, this time at Grace Hall where the Thrift Store operates on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Just over a week ago, the Senior Center was broken into early Saturday morning, Apr. 2 and the place ransacked.
Just after 9 a.m. on Sunday, Apr. 10, Sandy Chaille arrived at the church to get things ready for Sunday services when she discovered evidence of the break-in and notified the Sheriff’s Office.
Someone had broken out a window on the south side of Grace Hall to gain entry, and then broke open the cash box used to make change for the Thrift Store, making off with the money inside. They also opened the freezer to see what they might steal from there, and finding nothing they wanted, left the freezer door standing open, and left through the front door of the Hall.
While parishioners were upset about the burglary and loss of the money in the cash box, they were perhaps more disturbed by the theft of the cash in the Deputy Dog donation container. Collecting change for the K9 program at the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, the church has donated over $2,000 through this little donation dog, and the thief or thieves took all the change except the pennies, which were left at the scene of the crime.
A wooden box that is available for those making purchases in the Thrift Store before or after services, or during other times when the store is not open, was also broken into and the cash removed.
Pat Brown says that theft and vandalism at the church has been so rampant over the last few years, that they keep a notebook logging every time they have to call out deputies to take reports on the latest assault on a church that does so much for the North Fork community. That number has now grown to 15 incidents in less than two years.
Pat says the notebook cover is appropriately adorned with a graphic of the yellow tape that says “Police Line – Do Not Cross.”
In January 2015, someone stole some metal wagons used for gardening, and the church’s handicapped sign. In February, their garbage cans were stolen, along with the bin that they sit in, though the thieves were nice enough to leave the garbage, strewn all over the place and full of broken glass. The perpetrators also went through the bags of clothes on the back porch.
Thieves have made off with two refrigerator dollies and two ladders, and in August, someone cut the screen on one of the windows at the Hall.
Along with theft and vandalism, the church has suffered other bizarre crimes over the past few years. In August, a toy hauler that was stolen out of Sacramento was left on the church property, and the owner had to be notified to come and retrieve it. In September, someone left a dead dog wrapped in a blanket on the premises.
In December, someone cut all the locks on the storage unit where the church keeps items to send down to the Salvation Army in Fresno. The items had already been sent down the hill, so the thieves didn’t get away with anything, they just succeeded in committing another act of vandalism.
On more than one occasion, someone has ripped open the bags outside on the back porch and scattered stuff all around, leaving yet another huge mess for parishioners to be greeted by and have to clean up.
Church members had also planted a tree in memory of Rowena Kratzer, surrounded by a little fence. Someone backed into it, and broke the fence and the memorial sign that had been placed there.
On Apr. 2, the Grace Community Church Senior Center was broken into, apparently by someone jimmying open a door, and then completely ransacking the place. With no money to be found, the thieves had to settle for stealing the first aid kit and some food items that the church provides for needy families.
During that incident, the culprits not only went through every drawer and cabinet in the building, they also stole a card meant for a local cancer patient, which had been signed by everyone at the senior luncheon.
Grace Community Church is well-known for their outreach in the North Fork Community, providing food or clothing for anyone who needs it, hosting community dinners, supporting humanitarian projects and working with other churches in the area putting together Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets for needy families.
The rash of criminal activity on the property is very discouraging to those who work so hard to help those who are in need.
“North Fork is a wonderful community,” says Sandy Chaille, “and it’s just a small segment of people who are doing this.”
While avoiding the impulse to put bars on the windows, church officials want anyone who feels inclined to burglarize the property to know that there will never be cash kept anywhere on the property, ever again. They also remind everyone that they are always ready and willing to help anyone who needs their assistance.
Anyone dropping off donations for the Thrift Store is asked to please do so during their regular hours on Tuesday and Thursday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to ensure that those items don’t get pilfered if left outside the building. Another sad but all-too-common occurrence.
Anyone with information on any of these crimes is encouraged to call the Madera County Sheriff’s Office at 559-675-7770. You can remain anonymous.