LIZEMORES, W.Va. -- When Freda Auxier opened a freezer at the Christian Service Center food pantry on Tuesday, her heart sank.
“I went from one freezer to another and they were all empty. The shelves were empty,” Auxier said. “I’m going ‘Oh my God.’”
The food pantry, which has served low-income families of Clay County for more than 30 years, was robbed in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Thousands of dollars worth of frozen meat, canned fruits and vegetables, drinks and baked goods were stolen from the pantry’s headquarters in Lizemores along W.Va. 16, said Auxier, the center’s director. The thieves left behind some canned food, bags of frozen blueberries and a cake.
The nonprofit Christian Service Center serves an average of 150 to 250 Clay County families on a regular basis, Auxier said. The center, which also operates a thrift store from the same location, is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“From 10:30 to 2:30 if you come in and you need food, you get food,” she said. “I have never turned down anybody.”
Clay County Sheriff Garrett Samples said he and Auxier missed each other when she called the sheriff’s department on Tuesday to report the theft. Samples told the Gazette Wednesday that he was surprised by the large amount of food that had been taken.
He said the county has experienced a large amount of break-ins and “I think it’s all drug-related.”
The sheriff said that he would return Auxier’s call and look into the robbery. “I’m going to do everything I can to help them.”
Auxier said she’s already received a large amount of calls from individuals and organizations who want to help. During business hours Wednesday, folks entered the center to give donations.
Mia Dorsey, a representative of the Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council, said when the council heard the news they instantly started planning a food drive.
“One of our focuses is to help our community in need and to help better our communities. When we heard that this had happened, we felt this was the perfect opportunity to step in and help,” Dorsey said.
The council will collect food at its headquarters, at 321 Virginia Street W. in Charleston, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today, Friday and Monday. Dorsey said Auxier told her they will accept any non-perishable food.
“They were completely cleaned out. Anything that people want to give, they will accept,” Dorsey said.
Auxier said other organizations have contacted her about ways they can help.
“It’s been a beautiful response,” said her husband, Tom Auxier.
There’s never a good time to be robbed, but Auxier said the timing was especially devastating because the center’s volunteers were planning a large distribution day for Sept. 10. “We’ve been gathering and gathering and gathering to give out a lot of food next week.”
She was also planning a trip to the Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway to pick up even more food before next Wednesday, but that trip has been cancelled.
Now Auxier and her husband agree that their first priority has to be securing the building, which the center rents, to prevent any further break-ins.
Both said they believe the robbers were local residents. Freda Auxier said a freezer that was in a separate room and covered with a blanket was stolen from. “How would you know to look there?” she said.
“I’ve been living in this community since ’75. I opened the center in ’83. People know me. They know I don’t discriminate,” she said. “That hurt me enough to think they didn’t trust me enough to ask me for the food.”
To help call the Christian Service Center at 304-587-7896 or visit its location at 13922 W.Va. 16 in Lizemores.
Reach Anna Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5100.