I heard about it in church, during the weekly airing of "joys and concerns." It was not a joy.

The food pantry at the Goodman Community Center on Madison's East Side, just two blocks from my home, had been hit by theft. Largely cleaned out, in fact. 

"We were a little wiped out, and it was pretty shocking," Kathy Utley, the Goodman's food pantry coordinator, later confirmed.

Pretty shocking, indeed, I thought, and pretty reprehensible, too. What kind of jerk rips off a food pantry? It's like stealing Social Security checks from old ladies.

You might be surprised to learn Utley doesn't see it that way.

When I spoke with her on Tuesday, there were still a lot of unanswered questions about how exactly the theft occurred and "so many different stories on what happened" that Saturday, Nov. 12.

But so far, the theory is that someone pulled up in front of the pantry during pantry hours and simply started loading up on most of the pantry's food.

That's more than a bit brazen, given that there are volunteers running the food pantry and they presumably wouldn't let one customer take nearly everything. It might have been an inside job, in other words, Utley said, noting that there had been some non-regular volunteers working that day.

Ultimately, though, she's not sure what happened, other than "a lot of food was gone." Lucky for food pantry patrons, a large donation came in shortly afterward to help keep it open.

Utley and Goodman Center executive director Becky Steinhoff were understandably worried about word of the theft getting out. The notion that a food pantry can't be trusted to keep its food safe might make some people less likely to donate, and what's a food pantry without food? This is one reason they didn't report it to the police.

The other reason goes a bit deeper.

If a person has already been driven so low as to steal food from a food pantry, Utley mused, will criminal charges do much to bring that person up?

"People are hard up right now, and people are very desperate," she said.

Food prices are rising, incomes are stagnant, and "you're going to see more of this" — not just at Goodman, but at other pantries as well, she said. "Disparity creates crime."

Although she added that she doesn't really consider stealing food when you're hungry to be much of a crime.

For what it's worth, this regular visitor to the Goodman Center has never doubted its trustworthiness, professionalism or importance to the community. And that's not going to change now.

Besides, assuming the thief isn't fencing creamed corn on some highly lucrative canned goods black market, Utley's right.

Be thankful today that you aren't desperate enough to steal from a food pantry, and that there are people in this world who act on the belief that mercy is the better part of charity.

Then think about maybe helping the Goodman stock its pantry.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

You might also like

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Exchange ideas and opinions on posted articles. Don't promote products or services, impersonate other site users, register multiple accounts, threaten or harass others, post vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language. Don't post content that defames or degrades anyone. Don't repost copyrighted material; link to it. In other words, stick to the topic and play nice. Report abuses by clicking the button. Users who break the rules will be banned from commenting. We no longer issue warnings. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.