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When thieves broke into the Detroiters Helping Each Other community center this week and stole backpacks and other goods intended for a Sunday giveaway benefiting students, founder Jessica Ramirez feared the youngsters might miss out.

But since word spread about the center’s loss, enough people have stepped forward to guarantee the event goes on as planned as well as boost more efforts at the site.

“Everything is coming together,” Ramirez said Thursday evening while welcoming contributions at the center on Detroit’s southwest side. “It’s amazing.”

Sometime between 7 p.m. Tuesday and when Ramirez returned around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, burglars forced their way inside the center at 8619 W. Vernor, using a hammer to shatter a lock on an armored back door, then kicking in another one leading into a space where workers stored goods, she said.

They snatched 75 backpacks filled with crayons, markers, highlighters and school supplies as well as 46 yet to be stuffed for the Sunday giveaway, Ramirez said. They also lifted clothing; hygiene products handed out in care packages; silverware, carryout trays and other items intended to help serve food to the homeless Saturday; dog leashes; and a DVD player along with a converter box. The group even took a box of grocery bags, helped themselves to juice and left behind cigarettes they smoked, she said.

“I felt violated, because I give anything I have if somebody needed it,” said Ramirez, who discovered the theft with her 3-year-old daughter. “I felt crushed.”

No one had been arrested as of Thursday night; Detroit police are investigating, said Sgt. Cassandra Lewis, a spokeswoman for the department. Anyone with information may call the 4th Precinct at (313) 596-5400 or Crime Stoppers at (800) SPEAK-UP.

Almost immediately after Ramirez and her colleagues spoke out about the robbery, they found an outpouring of generosity. Hardware stores supplied screws, brackets and temporary locks to help secure the doors while a neighborhood resident offered a $100 reward if a tip leads to the suspects’ arrest, Ramirez said.

Then, on Thursday, more kindness: Molina Healthcare of Michigan brought about 300 book bags as well as cases with pencils and erasers, while a community member dropped off about 50 more backpacks, Ramirez said. An electrician offered free services; two businesses are donating pizza for the homeless meal Saturday and the Sunday back-to-school giveaway, she said.

Others also pledged their support on the center’s Facebook page.

So much was gifted for the giveaway, Ramirez said, “we contacted other grassroots organizations that we associate with — if they have any families that need help, they will come here.”

Despite the setback from the theft, which left the center needing a new door as well as a security system, “we’re not letting this keep us down,” Ramirez said. “All it did was make our goal bigger and better to help our children.”

mhicks@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2117

To help

Those interested in helping out can call (313) 957-9511 or (313) 704-5392. For information: http://detroitershelpingeachother.com/ or www.facebook.com/DetroitersHelping?fref=ts

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