Zion United Church of Christ vandals stole food, tampered with freezer

CLEVELAND, Ohio - A Tremont Church is looking for help after someone broke into their church and stole several hundred pounds of food stored for an upcoming fundraising event.

Michael Lukacs, a church member and volunteer told NewsChannel5, it happened sometime between Wednesday and Friday at the Zion United Church of Christ located on West 14th Street in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland.

"I thought I was hallucinating to be honest with you," said the Church's Senior Pastor Joyce Morris.

Morris made the discovery on Friday saying she was checking to see if there was any more space in the freezer when she noticed the locked chain holding the freezer shut, had been cut with bolt cutters. 

But it gets worse, Morris said before leaving, the thief turned off the freezer leaving some meat, about 50 packages-worth, of frozen raw chicken to rot. 

"You go in there and it smells like, you know, bloody, rotting meat… to open up the freezer and see that there's nothing in there at all, your heart drops," said Lukacs. 

The meat was for a "Southern Style" fried chicken dinner and fundraiser event church volunteers have spent months preparing. But now they're forced to pay for the damage, which not only includes replacing the meat. 

"The chain was broken and the floor is damaged," added Associate Pastor, Donna Herbster.

Herbster tells NewsChannel5, since the discovery wasn't made right away, the blood from the melted poultry spent a significant amount time soaking into the tiled floor and subfloor, which will all now need to be replaced.

It's money the church does not have. Members say the "Southern Style" event was to not only feed the community but help raise money so they could get by on paying the bills. 

"I'm sorry for the person because to do something like that you have to be very unhappy yourself and if you're unhappy yourself, that's why churches exist," said Joyce.

But they haven't given-up just yet. Members are now pushing to keep everything planned for Oct. 21. If they can get the donations, the church plans to continue in hosting the free dinner while selling tickets to the Johnny Cash tribute concert.

"We're going to help as many as we can and feed as many as we can," said Herbster. 

For the person who did this, Herbster said, "We all have feelings of regret and sorrow… but as a Christian community, we are called to forgive."

In the mean time, the Cleveland Police Department told NewsChannel5 they will check on the matter.

For more information visit: www.zionucctremont.org .

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