Table to Table needs help after catalytic converter theft takes two food rescue vans out of commission

Table to Table workers unload food, March 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Table to Table (T2T) has become one of the leaders in the fight against hunger in Iowa since its founding in 1996, collecting food that would otherwise be thrown away from restaurants, grocery stores and farms, and then distributing it to organizations that serve people experiencing or on the cusp of food insecurity. With food insecurity at record levels in the state, the Iowa City-based nonprofit’s work has taken on a new urgency.

But T2T’s fleet of eight vehicles is down by two after thieves stole a pair of catalytic converters last week.

A catalytic converter is part of a vehicle’s exhaust system, and can be readily accessed by anyone crawling under a car, truck or van. It removes certain pollutants from the exhaust, with a filter that uses rate metals such as palladium and rhodium. The catalytic converter is easy to spot, and a thief with a battery-powered saw can cut one out in less than a minute, wrecking the vehicle’s exhaust system in the process.

T2T staff and volunteers discovered the thefts early Friday morning, when they arrived to start their food rescue routes. The loss of the catalytic converters rendered the cargo vans completely inoperable.

“Due to these thefts, T2T is currently operating without a quarter of their regular fleet, making it harder to capture all the food available as long as the vehicles are out of commission,” the nonprofit said in a statement.

T2T volunteers had been collecting and redistributing 45,000 pounds of food each week in Johnson County when all eight of its cargo vans were on the road. Until all the vans are operational, it will be difficult “to capture all the food available at this critical time as resources at T2T’s local partner organizations, including local food pantries and emergency meal sites, are stretched thinner and thinner,” the nonprofit said.

Estimates to repair the damaged vehicles and replace the stolen part run to as much as $3,000. To protect T2Ts other vehicles from having their exhaust system cut apart — as thefts continue to increase, it’s becoming common to install cages around catalytic converters — will likely bring the total cost to $5,000. It is an expense the nonprofit will have trouble meeting, so T2T is asking the community for help covering the costs.

Donations can be made online through T2T’s site. Donations can also be mailed to Table to Table, PO Box 2596, Iowa City, IA 52244. Checks should be made payable to Table to Table.