PARK RAPIDS - A lauded program called Kids Against Hunger has been victimized by unknown vandals and is preparing to start its good works from scratch after a devastating loss.
The local chapter of the group, operating through Faith Baptist Church in Park Rapids, suffered an estimated $15,000 in damages Tuesday night when the Chevrolet Suburban and trailer it uses to transport supplies was stolen, full of food supplies.
The vehicle and trailer were recovered the following day outside of Pine Point in neighboring Becker County. They had been torched beyond recognition. The contents, including expensive scales used to weigh the food components, were a total loss.
Youth groups and volunteers package rice-based meals to ship overseas; they were just recognized for shipping out their millionth meal this winter. The national program is based in Minneapolis.
Program director and pastor Mark Waller said the thieves broke a window in the Suburban and apparently drove off with it. He said authorities told him a vehicle was also stolen the same night.
He estimated the food in the trailer would have provided 20,000 meals to needy people.
The organization will continue somehow, he said. Three groups are coming to package more meals today (Saturday). He said the group will borrow materials from a Fergus Falls chapter to complete its mission.
The church is located on South Highway 71 in Park Rapids.
The pastor said long-term goals including starting all over to replace what was lost, but said he didn't know if Faith Baptist would hold a fundraiser to ask for community help in helping to replace what was damaged.
"This is a huge disadvantage (to this organization) and I hate to see it," said Hubbard County interim sheriff Frank Homer.
He said law enforcement authorities have been working hard to curb such crimes, "but old habits are hard to break, I guess."
The theft is under investigation by Park Rapids and White Earth police, Hubbard and Becker counties. There were no suspects as of press time.
"Something good may come out of it," Waller said, trying to be positive about the loss. "Who knows?"