As far as crimes go, this one is small potatoes.
But it was a big deal to the elderly folks who worked all summer to grow the produce and were just about ready to harvest it and donate it to families in need. They felt like they were robbed of much more than their garden vegetables.
Debbie Travis, the Clinton Township Senior Center’s assistant director, told the Free Press on Monday the situation is ludicrous. “We don’t get this kind of energy at the senior center. We’re an activities center, like a playground for seniors and retirees.”
Still, if there is anything good that’s come of the caper, it’s that hundreds of people throughout metro Detroit have rallied to show support for the center, including people who brought in produce from their own gardens to try to replace what was stolen.
Next spring, the club hopes, even more people will come out to help.
Here’s what Travis said happened:
Sometime last week, probably on Labor Day, the center’s community garden was pilfered. For eight years, the center’s garden club had been growing vegetables — zucchini, squash, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers — that they then donate.
Last year, they picked about 1,500 pounds.
This time, thieves got away with an estimated 300 pounds of produce.
About the only thing they didn’t take were the carrots, which had been pulled out but left behind.
It’s hard to say exactly when — or why — it happened, Travis said. Club members were in the garden on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. The garden is a large open area that includes raised beds. People come and go, and some even pick a few fresh veggies for themselves. The club doesn’t mind.
And at first, Travis said, the club didn’t even seem to know that the vegetables had been stolen.
“There was a slow awareness of what had happened,” she said. “When they went out there, someone said, ‘Wow, we really pulled all the peppers last time.’ And then, other people said, ‘No, we left a lot of peppers on the vine.’
“Then, at the next bed, was like, ‘Where did all the tomatoes go?’ And, then, ‘Wait a second, all the cucumbers are stripped,’ and ‘the zucchini is gone,’ ” she added. “It just kept building like that until someone realized: ‘We’ve been robbed!’ ”
The surveillance cameras showed what appears to be several people moving around the garden with flashlights at night. It’s hard to identify any faces. The garden wasn’t vandalized. The produce was just missing, leading the center to suspect it wasn’t a prank, but a heist.
The club doesn’t understand. The food is worth maybe just a few hundred dollars.
The club members were devastated because “they put so much hard work into that garden,” Travis said. That’s probably what hurts the most.
The club been doing it for eight years, each year trying to grow more and more food.
“Not only are the seniors doing something that’s good for them — being in the dirt and the camaraderie of the garden club — but they are doing something that’s good for the community,” Travis said. “They walk away from it feeling great and the food pantries appreciate all the fresh produce.”
Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or [email protected]