PITTSBURG, Calif. - The motto at the Lion’s Den boxing gym in Pittsburg is "Eat or Get Ate," a maxim to inspire young people in the community to work hard against whatever challenges life brings.
The nonprofit gym’s volunteers are now heeding those words more than ever after burglars stole thousands of dollars set aside for a Christmas toy giveaway.
"They didn’t just take from us, they took from the community, so we’re actually devastated," Lion’s Den volunteer Lakesha Smith told KTVU shortly after the burglary on Monday morning.
It happened in the early morning hours and was captured on security video from across the street. A burglar smashed the door window of the small gym along Cumberland Street.
Once the thief saw the coast was clear, he and an accomplice snatched a safe from inside and carried in through the broken window in a garbage bin.
Inside the safe was the next rent payment, at least two grand and dozens of gift cards that were supposed to go to a Christmas toy giveaway that was scheduled for Thursday.
"The money was taken that we were supposed to do it with, so now we can’t do it," Smith said of the giveaway. "What we do is help the community. We bring people here. This is supposed to be a safe space, and now it appears as though it’s not."
The Lion’s Den is a growing fixture in the Pittsburg community providing training and mentorship for young people.
"I think it’s really important especially in underserved communities where there really isn’t no other outlets for teenagers to get their aggression out or maybe be part of some sort of community," said Wali Herawi, a volunteer and trainer whose 10-year-old son also works out at the gym.
Lion’s Den owner Cordell Pearson is now trying to figure out how he can still make the toy giveaway happen before Christmas
"If I have to sell tacos out front, if I have to sell plates whatever to get money back that’s what we’ll do," he said.
Police took a report and collected evidence like a crowbar the thieves left behind, but the folks at Lion’s Den don’t expect they’ll get the money back.
Pearson's wife, Jennifer Buzzard, also started a GoFundMe page seeking donations.
"Right now we need all the help we can get," Smith said. "We know we probably won’t be able to get back all that was taken but even a little bit goes a long way."
Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky.