On extended break: Vandalism causes People’s Church to stay closed longer

Body: 

BEMIDJI -- The People’s Church in Bemidji helps some of the city’s most desperate residents, and staff there are on an extended break after a spate of vandalism.

The church’s typical 3-4 week summer hiatus started about a month early, leaders there said, and is scheduled to continue into early October as they fix it back up. When normal operations resume, staff will secure entrances and exits there and require people to fill out an application before they’re allowed to stay at the church.

Why the extended break?

“We’re overrun with criminals,” said Pastor Bob Kelly. The church sees some thefts and damage every year, staff there said, but there’s been an uptick in the past eight to nine -- a ransacked office; a stolen computer and blank checks; and food tossed aside and left to spoil. Often, someone enters through one door of the church, looking to steal, say, a coat or backpack that they hope has medications in it before leaving out the opposite door.

“They're stealing from the most vulnerable people in our community,” said deacon Julia Plum. The value of the damages is tough to gauge, she said, but the cost in man hours is high.

The church still allows elders and the disabled when it’s on hiatus, and they’ll get first priority when it reopens Oct. 3. One resident who identified herself only as “Debbie” said she’ll feel safer when it does.