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Seniors' meal delivery bus in North Van targeted by 'cat' burglars

A North Vancouver community program that delivers between 300 and 400 meals to seniors is the latest to be hit by thieves on the North Shore. Buses for two other seniors programs have also been targeted.
Turkey dinners for seniors
Silver Harbour driver John McCann and assistant cook Don Do load 100 turkey dinners for delivery to seniors in need in December 2020. The bus was recently vandalized by catalytic converter thieves. | Margaret Coates

A North Vancouver community program that delivers between 300 and 400 meals to vulnerable seniors is the latest to be hit by “cat” burglars on the North Shore.

The driver for Silver Harbour Centre’s meal delivery program got an unwelcome surprise when he climbed in to start up the seniors centre’s 20-passenger van parked next to the Centennial Theatre Monday morning (Feb. 14).

“It just made this incredibly loud, roaring rumble,” said Annwen Loverin, executive director of the centre. Some investigation under the bus quickly revealed “the catalytic converter had been sliced out and taken away,” said Loverin.

Costs of repair could be in the range of $3,000, which the seniors program is hoping will be mostly covered by insurance.

Police officers who attended didn’t give them a lot of hope that a suspect will be identified, she added.

Loverin said the theft is particularly disappointing for the meal program, which has pivoted during the pandemic from providing meals at the seniors centre to delivering them and offering them for pickup. Food has always been an important part of the programming at Silver Harbour, she said.

Currently the meal program offers deliveries of $10 meals three days a week and pickup of meals five days a week for seniors who may have trouble cooking for themselves or getting out for groceries.

Harry Mayor of North Vancouver is one of the seniors who count on the service. “It’s much better food than I can cook,” he said, adding one of the meals is usually enough to last him two days. “It serves a purpose. Quite a few people get it.”

While the centre waits up to two weeks for the bus to be repaired, they’ve been able to pay for extra insurance in order to use a staff vehicle to deliver the meals on a temporary basis, said Loverin.

Seniors who rely on the service are grateful that they’ll continue getting meals, she said. But she added, “Some of them feel quite frustrated and angry that we would suffer in this fashion.”

Unfortunately, it’s not the first time such buses have been targeted by catalytic converter thieves on the North Shore.

In August of 2021, two catalytic converters were stolen from two buses used by the West Vancouver Seniors Centre. One of those buses was an older model, which meant a few weeks' wait to get a replacement part, said Jill Lawlor, manager of seniors’ services for the  District of West Vancouver. That resulted in some cancelled trips for seniors, she added.

Then on Sept. 1 last year, another seniors bus – this time operated by Capilano Community Services – had its catalytic converter cut off while it sat in the parking lot of the old Delbrook Community Centre. "We discovered it the next morning when our driver was preparing to take the bus out for one of our seniors programs," said Stephanie Aldridge, executive director of the organization.

That meant getting the bus towed and repaired, she said, adding it's difficult to find secure parking for buses at a reasonable rate.

In May 2021, two school buses parked at Collingwood School’s Morven campus also had their catalytic converters stolen.

A significant number of vehicle owners in both North and West Vancouver have reported thieves cutting and stealing their catalytic converters in the past two years.

Const. Kevin Goodmurphy of the West Vancouver Police said there were 31 catalytic converter thefts reported in West Vancouver alone in 2021.

The problem is one encountered all over the Lower Mainland.

In 2020, ICBC had 2,154 reports of “cat theft,” costing the insurer more than $2 million in claims.

Catalytic converters are part of a vehicle’s exhaust system used to mitigate harmful pollutants that the engine emits. But they contain precious metals that some scrap metal dealers will pay money for.

Owners normally discover their catalytic converter has been stolen when they start the vehicle and find the engine is unusually loud.