East Bay rallies behind beloved community group after delivery truck stolen, located with $1,200 in damage

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The race to recover a box truck used to transport food for community distribution, took an entire team of East Bay neighbors. Or as Homies Empowerment says, "It takes a barrio."

Co-founder Dr. Cesar Cruz noticed the truck went missing Wednesday night.

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"Robberies happen all the time. Why is this an issue? This small food truck feeds over 2,000 people every week," Cruz explained. "So, I was just heartbroken. We were out in the streets until like 1 a.m. looking for it. Then I realized, maybe someone who is without a home needs it. So, I just sent it off in that good energy way."

Covered in distinct murals, Cruz explained the truck allows the group to deliver crates of food for its weekly Freedom Store.

Homies Empowerment feeds families needing extra help, especially during the pandemic.

"We are living in such a difficult pandemic with so much job loss, that we have thousands of people standing in line just to feed their children- just to have diapers for kids. So we want to treat them with love, respect and dignity," he explained. "We don't want poverty to be a crime in America or anywhere in this world. Everybody deserves to be seen with dignity. So we offer, in a very humble way, smiles and dignity in the form of a week's worth of food, toiletries and diapers."

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Cruz said the community is responding well, as they continue to take care of each other.

Referring back to the theft, he admitted, "I was really worried. How are we going to pick up food to feed 2,000 people next week? Our truck has been stolen."

On Thursday morning, a resident familiar with Cruz and Homies Empowerment efforts spotted the truck near the 81st Avenue library.

They've asked to remain anonymous.

"I saw a truck, and I was like, 'Well, I don't recognize that one. That's kind of a cool mural.' Then I stopped and I was like, wait a second."

The neighbor alerted Cruz, who later arrived to find the truck stripped of its catalytic converter.

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"I think that just speaks to the level of need, or desperation or whatever it may be," the resident told ABC7 News. "I'm not one to be in a place of judging or anything like that. Ultimately, what I hope is that whatever happens, I hope that the folks that did do this, maybe you learn about Homies Empowerment, and maybe you'll see the community for what it is. Maybe you'll reach out and find a way to make amends or build community."

Cruz explained AAA couldn't help because the truck was too large, but said he was able to lean on S & F Towing.

Sofia Navarro with the tow company said Cruz did so much for her own family in the past, she knew she needed to help.

Navarro explained she really admires that Cruz helps out and motivates people. She said he keeps the community together, especially the young people.

She said jumping in to help get the truck towed was the right thing to do, and it was the right moment for her company to help out,

"Anything he asked me is free," Navarro told ABC7 News. "Free of charge."

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Cruz added, "We had a community hero in Sofia Navarro. Her business saying, not only will we tow you, but we'll tow you two cities away."

In total, crooks caused $1,200 dollars in damage.

"First, we needed to raise $300-$400 for the ignition for the key, but then that got covered. Then we needed to raise $1,200 to cover everything with the muffler and everything else in the converter," Cruz explained.

He added, "That's already been raised. I cannot believe it."

From bad luck to blessings, in less than 24-hours for Homies Empowerment.

Cruz also shared a message to the people responsible for taking the truck and pulling parts.

"You might be hungry. Would you reach out to us? Can we feed you? We hold no grudges. You stole something from us... okay, everybody makes a mistake. Everybody deserves second chances," Cruz said. "Maybe you needed a home? Would you reach out to us? Maybe we can help provide a home. Please understand, we're not your enemy."

Cruz said now the goal is to get a second truck- one that is refrigerated to help even more residents in need.

"Because, how do you feed 2,000 people, but we don't have any refrigeration services? So now we're trying to see if we can purchase a truck that's refrigerated. So, if anyone is out there and they want to help, we could surely use your help," Cruz shared. "If you can spare some milk, if you can spare refrigerated products, if you can spare a refrigerated truck. We actually do believe in miracles. We believe that if you ask, there's someone out there in the Bay Area that has a refrigerated truck in their driveway."

If you'd like to contribute to Homies Empowerment, click here. To learn more about the independent youth and community development group, click here.

Cruz also shared, "What if you volunteered? What if you shared your diapers? What if you shared rice and beans? What if you shared canned goods? What have you shared your smile and your time? We don't just need money to survive, we need kindness."
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