$220 stolen from nonprofit ministry
NASHUA - It wasn't a lot of money, but the $220 pried from a locked drawer at the Upper Room Compassionate Ministries this weekend could have helped dozens of folks who need assistance. Katy Petrini, one of the faith-based charitable organization's directors, said when she arrived at the Tolles Street building Tuesday morning, she learned that someone had forced open a locked drawer in her office, taking the cash and some quarters from inside. The money, Petrini said, was earmarked to help people with bus fare, Laundromat costs, identifications, medicines and end-of-the-month shortfalls. But really, losing the cash itself isn't the biggest issue, Petrini said. "To steal from a ministry that helps people," she started, shaking her head. "It's just - I mean, we have some serious issues here." Petrini described that people who come in the door are usually in the most dire straits. On Tuesday, for example, a single father with a terminally ill child stopped in because he had no money for shoes. "It's those people that weigh heavy on your heart," Petrini said, adding that she relies on her faith to bear it. The Upper Room is spiritually based and offers Bible study groups, but anyone who needs help can get it, Petrini said. They only ask that people have a valid identification for record-keeping purposes. The organization collects donations of clothing, food, hygiene products and home goods, distributing them completely free to anyone who walks through the door. It also has a food pantry, where full bags of food for individuals and bigger families are put together. The Upper Room has an annual budget of $35,000. That money comes largely from individual donations and support from some larger local companies, Petrini said. Lately, it's getting tougher to give people what they need, said Lois Lastowka, a fellow director. "More and more people are out of work," Lastowka said. In June, the Upper Room served 1,600 clients, and of those, 114 were first-timers. At the same time last year, the total number of clients served was higher, at 1,720, but only 85 were newcomers. The Upper Room, which officially incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1994, is run by volunteers. "People really care about other people here," Petrini said. Which is why she can't understand how someone broke in and stand how someone broke in and stole money over the weekend. The organization lends meeting space to a church, which holds services Sundays. This past weekend, the group held a meal afterward, Petrini said. After everyone left, she and her husband, Ed Petrini, left the front and side doors open as they cleaned up. The Petrinis left in mid-afternoon, with Katy Petrini setting the Upper Room's alarm as she left. On the way home, the alarm firm called Ed Petrini to report the alarm was sounding in the building. He turned back, Katy Petrini said, and met the police at the building. Ed Petrini assumed it was a fluke issue with the alarm, so he didn't make much of it to police and everyone left. Then, on Tuesday morning, the first person into the building saw a change tray - normally secured in Katy Petrini's office, was out of place in the main building and found that the locked drawer where cash is kept had been forced open, Petrini said. The organization contacted the police and filed a report.The troublesome news of the theft was somewhat softened by Tuesday afternoon, when a first-time donor stopped by on a whim. In addition to some clothing, the woman left a check for $100. The Upper Room Compassionate Ministries is at 36 Tolles St. They can be reached Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. To reach them by phone, call 595-2039.