Group Spent Months On Charitable Project To Give Home Wheelchair AccessBy Carolyn Gusoff

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Volunteers on Long Island were heartbroken Thursday when they learned they were unable to complete a charitable effort.

They spent months renovating a disabled woman’s home in Hempstead, but someone broke in overnight and stole their power tools, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.

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Work stopped short on this labor of love: a house to be transformed to give the disabled homeowner wheelchair access and needed repairs.

“You’re not just hurting us, you’re hurting a mom here, who has a disability, and a disabled child,” said Gina Centauro, co-founder of Rescuing Families.

The founders of the small nonprofit returned to the work site to find thousands of dollars worth of power tools were stolen.

“All of our hand tools, all of our compressor tools, you name it. Anything you need to build a house, we had in this house,” said Vinny Centauro, also a co-founder.

Claire Helfenbein, a disabled widow whose son as autism, was chosen for the surprise renovation.

“It was like winning a little lottery,” Helfenbein said.

Her home was clearly marked as a charitable project. She called the theft a smack in the face.

“To steal someone’s tools that’s trying to help a family in the community. Who does that?” said Helfenbein. “It’s disgusting, and I’m very hurt by it.

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“Heartbreaking. You know, we’re just trying to make a difference. They just, like, wiped everything out of us,” said Vinny Centauro.

“My heart is sick. I was crying this morning,” another person said.

Volunteers were working toward a July 4 reveal.

“I think it’s cruel when we are here trying to help another family in need and somebody else comes and ruins it all,” said another person.

The group said the thieves cherrypicked the most expensive tools. They even emptied the refrigerator of water bottles.

Police dusted for fingerprints on a window and door what were forced open and are checking surveillance video.

“I don’t know if they have a conscience, but maybe something will touch their heart and they will return the tools,” said Helfenbein.

“The bigger picture is, we have other families to help,” said Vinny and Gina Centauro.

Down but not out, the group vowed to somehow get the family back home.

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Click here for more information about Rescuing Families.

Carolyn Gusoff