Calgary charity helping people with special needs plagued by theft of bottle donations

A Calgary charity says their bottle pick-up program — which helps bolster their programs and services for people with disabilities — says their being negatively impacted by a rash of donation thefts from their participants.

Vecova says the money from the bottle goes towards programs and services for people with disabilites

Home security footage shows a man stealing bottles in the Vecova donation bag. (Vecova)

A Calgary charity says their bottle pick-up program — which helps bolster their programs and services for people with disabilities — is being negatively impacted by a rash of donation thefts.

Vecova Centre for Disability Services and Research says their bottle pick-up program collects bags and bins of bottles from northwest Calgary residents and businesses who sign up, with all proceeds going toward Vecova's programing for marginalized Calgarians. 

Matthew Nomura, acting chief operating officer for Vecova, said donations left outside businesses or on residential doorsteps are being targeted by thieves. 

"We've had people who are driving to businesses where they know people are leaving recyclables out and they're breaking chains, breaking in and taking the recyclables," he told the Calgary Eyeopener.

Nomura said what upsets him most about the situation is the money collected from the bottles goes toward helping people with disabilities in Calgary who really need the support. 

"Any dollar we're taking away from a marginalized population impacts them," he said. 

Padlocks getting cut

InjaNation, Calgary's largest indoor playground, is one of the companies participating in the Vecova bottle program and has seen their donations stolen. 

According to Tom Tullikopf, manager of facility operations with InjaNation, when the company first started participating in the program they didn't have any issues and were bringing in a good haul for the charity on a regular basis.

"We were probably donating between $400 to $500 month to the program and then we started noticing that our padlocks were getting cut," he said. 

All participants in the program are given branded bags like this one to store their donations in. (Vecova)

From there, Tullikopf said the problem escalated. 

"We've tried a number of solutions by moving the bin, putting chain around it," he said.

"All kinds of different things, but they just kept coming with bigger bolt cutters and cutting bigger locks and actually doing enough damage to the bin itself with the bolt cutters to force it open."

Nomura said the people who are taking these donations would know they aren't just any bottles, but are earmarked for a charitable cause. 

"We provide all our customers and business partners with Vecova bags [or bins] which are clearly marked that they are for donations," he said. 

'They're … driving Ford F-150s'

Nomura said they aren't sure who is allegedly stealing in all cases, although they have viewed some security camera footage. 

"They're individuals who are driving Ford F-150s so it's like, unfortunate from that perspective that people who can potentially provide for themselves are taking from those who are marginalized," he said. 

Tullikopf said InjaNation has caught the alleged thieves on camera too. 

"We caught them two Sundays in a row at 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning, just walking up like they own the place," he said.

It's frustrating, we're just trying to do the good thing.- Tom Tullikopf, manager of facility operations, InjaNation

"They had hoodies on and hats so couldn't get a clear shot of their face. They were parked far enough off to the side that we couldn't see them."

In total, Tullikopf said donations have been stolen from InjaNation more than 20 times. 

"I put a new chain on this week and it was already cut off," he said.

"It's frustrating, we're just trying to do the good thing and there are people out there who aren't."

Nomura said the thefts haven't yet had a large big impact on their bottom line, but people are starting to drop out of the program. 

"People don't want people trespassing on their property," he said. "What else can you really do when you're going to the greatest extent to safe guard your donations?"

InjaNation said they have filed a police report, but nothing has come of it yet. 

With files from Tahirih Foroozan and the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson


Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Lucie most recently headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson