BALTIMORE — On July 23, staff at the Maryland Book Bank showed up at their Woodberry warehouse to find out their van had been stolen.
The van, a 2004 Ford, had been stolen the previous evening from the nonprofit’s warehouse in the 1700 block of Union Avenue. The Book Bank posted the theft on their facebook page in the hopes someone would find the distinctive looking vehicle. The van had books painted on the side, as well as phrases “Donate a Book” and “Follow me to Great Adventure…the Maryland Book Bank!.”
As the days dragged on, the prospect of the cargo van’s returned seemed faint. The Book Bank started a GoFundMe page in the hopes of collecting the $40,000 likely needed to replace the vehicle.
But Friday morning, staff at the Book Bank got a surprise, said Kim Crout, the Book Bank’s Program Manager. At about 6:30 a.m., an employee at another organization located in the warehouse complex called to to say the van had returned.
Its reappearance is perhaps more mysterious than its disappearance, though.
The van sustained damage, Krout said. The license plate was altered, a rear window was smashed, and the exterior was heavily spray-painted and graffitied. But upon closer inspection, much of the defacing appears to be of a theme.
The Book Bank’s logos were completely painted over, with masking tape covering some of the more distinct markings, Krout said. Posted to the van’s exterior were pages from a book. Krout guesses it was either a book the thief or thieves found inside the van or somewhere laying around as “books are everywhere” around the warehouse, Krout said.
But the book choice may be poignant or intentional. Krout said the pages are from a book about Vincent Van Gogh, the Impressionist painter and artists. Many of the cut outs are photos of his paintings. Among the spray paint, written on the van’s hood was the phrase “Van Go,” possibly some cheeky word play from whomever stole and defaced the vehicle.
Krout said Baltimore Police came out to investigate, searching the van for prints, of which she believes they may have recovered one or two for the vans interior, as well as from a spray paint can found in the van. Police did not respond to inquiries about their investigation.
She said now that the van is returned and is effectively functional still, though it will need some major repairs, the Book Bank is returning the more than $5,000 donated so far to the GoFundMe page as a matter of integrity. Since the original donations were given under the pretext they would be used for a new vehicle, they want to start over and give donors a choice if they want to support a future repair project or not. Krout didn’t say if or when they may start a subsequent GoFundMe or similar fundraising effort for repairs.
She said the van will need a new paint job, a new rear window, and the ignition lock will need to be replaced since the van was returned but without a key, so there is a fear someone might be out there with a key that could be used to drive the vehicle.
While the 15-year-old van has relatively low mileage as it’s mostly used for pick ups and drop offs, it’s an essential tool for the nonprofit. Going from being without it, to assuming they’d need to procure another, to now having it back but with a lot of work required to return it to its previous state, it’s been a tough experience for the organization.
“It’s been such a stressful, intense situation for us,” Krout said.