Robbers steal holiday gift cards meant for homeless youth
Crime • Bikes used in outreach program, bus tokens were also taken.
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Scrooge-like burglars stole part of Christmas from Salt Lake City homeless youths late Wednesday or early Thursday.

The day before Volunteers of America workers and other community workers prepared to hand out 200 gift backpacks Friday someone broke into the Homeless Youth Resource Center facility at 655 S. State Street and took bus tokens, gift cards and two bicycles outreach workers use.

The center provides homeless street youth between the ages of 15 and 22 a place to do laundry, take showers, enjoy a meal, attend classes or get referrals for human services. Last year, it served about 1,200 people.

Salt Lake City Police Detective Dennis McGowan said officers discovered the burglary at 8 a.m. Thursday and were still investigating it.

The burglars hit the side of the building that lacks an alarm, said Zach Bale, vice president of external relations for Volunteers of America that operates the center.

"Whoever it was went through the backpacks and just took out the items of greatest value," said Bale. "We had a group from Wells Fargo that volunteers come down and help put them back together so they will be ready for tomorrow."

Bale said the cards were worth between $5 and $10 and could be used at fast food restaurants or local grocery stores. The stolen bicycles are used by team members who go out into the streets to find and help youths.

According to the organization's website, workers drive, walk, bike and take public transit in Salt Lake County to seek out young people living on the streets. They provide food, clothing, information on community services and encourage kids to use the Volunteers of America's daytime drop in center.

"It's pretty crazy when stuff like this happens," Bale said. "You would think charities would be the last place people would rob."

Volunteers were working to see what other items might have been stolen.

Bale said community members who wished to make financial contributions to help make up for the loss can log on to the group's website at www.voaut.org.

The Homeless Youth Resource Center also operates an all-female transition home that teaches 16- to 19-year-olds self-sufficiency or helps reunite them with their families.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton —

Volunteers of America

O Those interested in making a donation can visit www.voa­ut.org, call 801-363-94914 or visit 435 W. Bearcat Drive in Salt Lake City.