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Catalytic converters stolen off vehicles belonging to Iowa City nonprofit

Table to Table Food Rescue, an Iowa City-based nonprofit that collects food from grocery stores and other corporate donors to deliver to food pantries, is working with fewer vehicles after catalytic converters were stolen off two of its vans.

The organization has several vehicles, including a 22-foot refrigerated truck, five smaller refrigerated vans and two non-refrigerated vans. Table to Table staff discovered the converters were missing from the two non-refrigerated vehicles Friday morning.

“We’re doing between seven and nine routes a day. So, often we’ll bring vans back and as soon as they get back from their first route, we turn them around and send them out with new volunteers to do more,” said Nicki Ross, executive director for the organization. “We’ve been down one vehicle for repair … before, but being down two is a pretty big hit to the operation.”

The theft has been reported to police. The organization now is looking to add cap covers to the two vehicles that had their converters stolen, along with any other vehicles built in a way that the converters could be easily stolen. But replacing the converters and adding the caps won’t be cheap.

The cost estimate for the two affected vehicles is $5,000, and the organization doesn’t yet have an estimate to protect the other vehicles.

“The thing is, on vehicles like these, it’s not a consumer vehicle where (parts) are readily available. What we’ve found is that they might have to be custom built,” Ross said.

The organization is asking for donations from the community to help pay for the repairs.

After the thefts were discovered Friday, Black & Gold Storage in Iowa City let the nonprofit leave the unaffected vehicles in a protected storage unit over the weekend in case thieves returned. But Table to Table doesn’t have the funding to keep the vans in a garage full time, which is why adding the protective covers is so important, Ross said.

The nonprofit has had to delay some pickups and drop-offs this week. One of the challenges is that many food pantries Table to Table serves are available only in the mornings to receive drop-offs, because by the afternoon most of the people they serve have already come and gone.

“Disruption to a logistical schedule like ours is not uncommon, with a vehicle breaking down or other issues. So, we are used to having to navigate changes. It’s really the fact that there’s two missing, so we’ve had to delay routes,” Ross said. “Hopefully we’ll get this resolved and not have to make a long-term solution for that, but that is something we have to think about — which partners might be missing food because they can’t accept the delivery at a different time.”

Catalytic converter thefts have become more common in the last few years. The exhaust emission control devices often contain precious metals, like platinum, and can be easily removed from some vehicles.

“We understand that often people who do this are desperate,” Ross said. “I think the unfortunate thing is, they get between $50 and $300 for it, and it will cost us many times that to replace it,” Ross said.


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