Staten Island Sandy Relief Center Reeling After Theft of $1,600 Stereo

By Nicholas Rizzi on April 30, 2013 4:46pm 

MIDLAND BEACH — A Hurricane Sandy relief center in Midland Beach that had its donation box stolen by looters last month was hit again on Monday morning — when a thief stole its stereo system, organizers said.

Aiman Youssef, 42, who is in charge of the Midland Avenue Neighborhood Relief Center at 489 Midland Ave., near Kiswick Street, said his Bose stereo system — worth an estimated $1,600 — was gone after he opened up the tent on Monday.

“That’s the only thing that survived out of my house,” he said. “For somebody to take that piece out of my life, I really felt bad.”

Youssef, who salvaged the Bose system from the wreckage of his home on Midland Ave., said the stolen stereo was the straw that broke the camel's back after a long line of low-level thefts at the relief hub.

He said he and other volunteers have locked the gate in the front of the tent each night and padlocked the zippers around the side and back entrances.

But he found that the lock on the side entrance had been broken open some time between when he left the facility Sunday evening and when he arrived Monday morning.

He said he reported the stereo theft, which he discovered later in the day, to cops, and is offering a $150 reward for its return.

Looters previously broke into the center in March to take more than $70 from the donation box — money that was intended to buy supplies, Youssef said. He added that thieves kept coming back, taking one or two items at a time.

Late last week, he said, a wheelbarrow full of supplies and boxes of fresh pineapples went missing along with other items from the tent.

“They keep taking little by little,” he said, adding that he didn't report those items missing because they were so small. “It’s a shame. It feels bad because I want to continue helping my community.”

Since they sprang up almost immediately after Sandy, relief centers across the borough have been plagued by looters taking supplies and food meant for victims.

Midland Beach residents have also complained of copper wire and building supplies missing from their homes, and the neighborhood has had squatters taking up in damaged homes, said Justin Stone-Diaz, a volunteer at the center.

Volunteers at the center raised the idea of starting a neighborhood watch, and Monday's burglary gave the group the incentive they need to get it off the ground, Stone-Diaz said.

“It’s the best proof we needed for the idea,” Stone-Diaz said. “Now there’s incentive.”

Youssef said cops have done a good job, but they need more eyes on the streets at night, and the neighborhood watch would help.

“The cops are doing a good job but we need more,” he said. “There’s a lot of looting in the neighborhood, there’s a lot of thefts going on day after day.”

Youssef’s home on Midland Avenue, next door to his center, was completely destroyed by the storm. He plans to rebuild, but wants to clean up the neighborhood for when he brings his family back home.

“This is my neighborhood, I love it and I want to protect it,” he said. “It took us six months to help with this Sandy relief, and we need a few more months to clean it up from the junkies in the area.”

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