Copper thieves steal pipes from Habitat for Humanity homes
By bob okon Sun-Times Media firstname.lastname@example.org July 31, 2012 4:42PM
Stan Bumstead helps replace some of the copper piping in a Habitat for Humanity home on Rev. Walton Drive in Lockport Tuesday, July 31, 2012. A week earlier, the pipe in two neighboring Habitat homes was stolen. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 2, 2012 6:18AM
Copper robbers have struck two houses being built in Lockport Township by Habitat for Humanity volunteers, making their good work harder to accomplish.
“It kind of takes the wind out of your sails,” said Rich Kapinus, a volunteer from southwest suburban Diamond who has been working on the house since October. “But we banded together and put it together again.”
Kapinus and a handful of volunteers who have been working on the house for about a year even got a special boost Saturday when they were joined by about 20 helpers who came from St. Ann Catholic Church in Channahon.
It may be a case of good triumphing over evil as the volunteer workforce made sure a house was ready as scheduled for a new owner close to moving in.
But that still leaves Will County Habitat for Humanity out more than $4,000 as it replaces copper pipes along with a door and window that were smashed by the thieves.
Raising that kind of money is “near impossible” in today’s economy, said Kirk Wilkins, Habitat’s project manager for the job. But the organization was able to work out an arrangement with its regular supplier, Midwest Supply Co. in Joliet, to get the materials for the house until Habitat can get the money.
Wilkins said he doubts whether the thieves knew or cared who they were hurting when they broke into the two houses, which are next to each other on Rev. Walton Drive, on July 23.
“There’s no discretion between where it’s at and who it’s for. It’s just money in their pockets,” he said.
Wilkins also lost a box of tools he had left at the site. Kapinus lost a power washer that he had brought from home and left there.
The houses that Habitat is building are in a low-income part of Lockport Township. But Wilkins, who has 30 years in the construction business, said he’s seen the same thing happen in wealthy neighborhoods.
“Still,” said Stan Bumstead of Orland Park, another volunteer on the project, “you just don’t understand why people would do that. I don’t know if it’s the economy the way it is or what.”
John Baratka of Channahon, another of the volunteers, said the theft may have been “a desperate act.”
If that’s a charitable outlook, it’s understandable. Baratka and his fellow volunteers do what they do to help people.
“It’s a hand up, not a hand out,” Annette Leck, executive director of Will County Habitat for Humanity, said of the group’s mission. By using volunteer labor, the organization is able to lower costs to make home ownership possible for working people with low incomes.
Habitat for Humanity is a worldwide organization. The Will County chapter has been around 1988. The two newest houses are number 60 and 61 that the group has built.
The system has worked pretty well over the years, Leck said. But thieves definitely make the good work harder. What was especially challenging in this incident was that the homeowner already was scheduled to leave her current residence and had enrolled a child into the new school system, so she had to move in.
“We work on a tight budget,” Leck said. “We have money set aside for our bills. But to all of a sudden need an additional $4,000 is a hardship, especially when we have a homeowner ready to move in with a student to put in school.”