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Repairing vandalized vans — and faith in mankind

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

Shop owner stands next to a repaired lift van
Two local businessmen team up to get Center vans back on road after theft of catalytic converters

“Disgusted” is the only way Phil Allen can describe his reaction while watching a news report about the theft of catalytic converters in June from four vans owned by the Olean Center.

He was so disgusted that he felt the need to do something, and he was in the perfect position to rectify the situation. As the owner of South County Auto in Westerly, he knew exactly how to proceed.

“I was sitting home and saw the report on Channel 10 and instantly called Jamie Silvestri who owns the NAPA store. I said we should do something for them and Jamie agreed right away,” Phil recalled.

Phil contacted the Center to offer his help and it was gratefully accepted. Executive Director Ruth Tureckova said she was ecstatic when she learned of Phil and Jamie’s offer.

“It was a tough and emotional few days,” Ruth said. “Our faith in humanity had really taken a knock and I have to admit that I had tears in my eyes listening to Phil because he and so many others came forward to help those we serve. We really do live in such an amazing community.”

As word of the thefts spread through local and regional news outlets and social media, the community responded with contributions and Ruth started a GoFundMe page to help cover huge transportation costs the Center experiences every year. Washington Trust also was a major contributor to this effort.

Phil and his crew provided the new catalytic converters and the labor to install them as well as repair damage done to remove the converters, and Jamie provided the oxygen sensors. Three of the vans are equipped with wheelchair lifts and the other is a regular passenger van.

Phil explained that catalytic converters contain a variety of precious metals that can be redeemed for serious money at scrap yards. It’s not uncommon for him to hear of such thefts, whether from private individuals or auto dealers, but this situation had him fired up.

“It’s bad enough to steal from someone, but it’s another thing to steal from someone with a disability who needs these vans for transportation.

Car dealers and other people usually have insurance that can cover this kind of thing pretty well, but non-profits usually have high deductibles to keep their rates down so this was pretty disgusting to see,” Phil said.

“Phil and Jamie’s response was just incredible,” Ruth said, “and I’m so grateful to them for what they did. So many of our participants rely on our vans to get out in the community, and the lift vans are the only means of transportation for some of them.”

For Phil, it was about community. He supports fundraisers for the schools, the police and Rotary Club among others. Rather than traditional advertising, he said he prefers to donate to charitable organizations that can use the help.

“We had the opportunity to give back to the town that has given so much to my business,” he said.

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