ORLANDO, Fla. – Members of a nonprofit organization that has been instrumental in helping Puerto Rican evacuees and children with autism is needing some help of their own after their center was burglarized over the weekend.
Santiago and Friends Family Center for Autism, which is part of Latino Leadership, was burglarized over the weekend. The organization has helped hundreds of Puerto Rican evacuees make the transition to living in Central Florida after Hurricane Maria.
Marytza Sanz, CEO of the nonprofit, said being victimized has left her and other members feeling distraught.
"You feel that somebody invaded your privacy. Helpless," Sanz said.
She said one of the center's therapists noticed the damage when she walked into the organization’s location on Colonial Drive Monday morning.
"She said, ‘I think you have to come. Something happened at the center,'" Sanz said. "All the iPads for the kids are gone. Two touch screens, full-screen computers are gone. Three laptops are gone. The scanner is gone."
Sanz said she thinks the burglars tampered with the front door in order to get inside then they took iPads and petty cash from the front desk.
The door to the hallway and to the back of the center, which requires an entry code, was kicked in. The force of the kick punched a hole from the doorknob into the wall on the other side.
More electronics were stolen from the back of the center, Sanz said. She believes the burglars used garbage cans and a quilt to hide the items they stole.
What may have stopped them from going further, she said, is the alarm on a side door.
To protect the children, the alarm sounds when the door is opened.
"They took whatever was electronics or cables. They unplugged the cables and they took them," Sanz said. "What we said is the person who did it does not have a heart. You cannot have a heart to do something like this."
Sanz estimates the damage and the value of the stolen items at about $9,000.
"When you're a nonprofit, each penny counts and you have done projects to raise money and to do it," Sanz said.
Insurance will help cover some of the costs but not all of them.
Sanz credits deputies with the Orange County Sheriff's Office for their work and concern in trying to find the person who did this.
"Yesterday, one of the police, when we were talking, he was ,like, 'You don't know how bad I want to find who it was because I understand how it's autism,’" Sanz said.
Anyone wishing to donate is asked to visit santiagoandfriends.com/donate.