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Theft Brings Out Best in Oxnard

Pledges totaling thousands of dollars pour in to Habitat for Humanity after tools are stolen from the site of a housing project.

April 08, 2006|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Just days after $2,500 worth of tools were stolen from a Habitat for Humanity project in Oxnard, concerned county residents have pledged more than triple the tools' value in donations.

"It's a very sad way to have a fundraiser," said Karen Jensen, Habitat's Ventura County project manager, of the nearly $8,000 promised. "But it just proves there are some really great people in the community who want to help us."

Volunteers helping construct six single-family homes for farmworker families at Villa Cesar Chavez along Hueneme Road discovered Wednesday morning that someone had broken into one of two storage containers on the property. The theft occurred between Saturday evening, when volunteers had last visited, and Wednesday, the group said.

The homes are being built on the site of 52 rental town homes for farmworkers just completed by Cabrillo Economic Development Corp., a Saticoy-based builder of low-cost housing.

David "Buzz" Bussing, temporary construction supervisor for Habitat at Villa Cesar Chavez, said he thought something was amiss when he arrived at the construction site and saw two sandbags placed near one of the storage container's metal doors. Thieves had cut the container's lock.

"I noticed the door was left open. Then I walked in and realized that all the electric hand tools on one of the inside shelves were gone," Bussing said. "They got almost all our power tools -- all the drills, circular saws, a planer and a router. There's more than 20 high-end tools that were stolen."

Not all of the tools belonged to the charity. Some were owned by volunteers, many of whom are senior citizens.

Robert Coyle, 66, who has volunteered for five years, said he "felt pretty lousy" when he got the call about the theft. When he arrived at the site, Coyle said, he was too upset to walk inside the large storage unit to determine what was missing.

"When this comes along, it's very disheartening. It's the real world, I guess, but I can't imagine why they would pick on Habitat," said Coyle, a retiree who once owned stereo equipment stores in Santa Monica and Woodland Hills.

Coyle, who travels at least twice a week from his Calabasas home to Habitat sites in Ventura County, surveyed his home workshop before returning Friday to help prepare the Oxnard site for a team of fresh volunteers today from Pepperdine University and Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks.

"I went through my garage and found everything I had two of and brought it in," Coyle said.

His donations included an electric planer, a battery-powered stud finder and hand tools, including drywall knives, saws, screwdrivers and hammers.

When Cumulus Media reported the theft on its four Ventura County radio stations, donations began to pour in, project manager Jensen said.

Gail Furillo, the stations' general manager, said Cumulus began supporting Habitat for Humanity last spring after determining that housing was a major issue in the region.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast last fall, the company's four local stations helped raise more than $100,000 for the Red Cross and Habitat chapters in the affected areas.

"Ventura County is a very generous area, and [listeners] will respond when you ask them," Furillo said. "It's a beautiful place, it's a thriving place. People feel blessed to be here, and when other people are having a hard time they respond magnificently."

Along with cash, Habitat for Humanity also accepts donations of tools and supplies. The charity operates a building materials thrift outlet, called ReStore, next to its Oxnard administrative offices on the 100 block of Lambert Street. The store sells such items as surplus floor tiles, unused paint and previously owned kitchen and medicine cabinets, with the proceeds used to support Habitat.

The nonprofit housing organization helps low-income families buy their own homes -- in part through the "sweat equity" of helping to build them.

Habitat has a constant need for donations, said Jensen. For each two- to four-bedroom home it constructs in the area, Habitat needs to find more than $100,000 in materials, as well as donated land and volunteer labor.

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