AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – The executive director of a nonprofit which assists refugees and immigrants believes her organization is at the center of a hate crime. In the past month the Village Exchange Center’s community garden, which is located at the Stanley Market, has been vandalized seven times.
Friday night the garden’s shed, and the machinery inside, were a complete loss after a fire.READ MORE: Colorado Polio Survivor Reflects On Life-Long Disease & COVID Vaccines Now
Amanda Blaurock, Executive Director and co-founder of the Village Exchange Center, said tens of thousands of dollars in damage was caused to the nonprofit’s outreach garden.
“I am infuriated, it is demoralizing, it is horrible for somebody to vandalize and burn down a piece of equipment where refugees and immigrants are building community and farming for food that goes to a food pantry,” Blaurock said.
The Village Exchange Center was created to bring Colorado’s refugee and immigrant communities together. No matter their faith, race or ethnicity those in the area of 16th and Havana are welcomed at the center. That is the same area where an estimated 80% of refugees in Colorado live.
The center operates a food pantry which serves an estimated 5,000 people regularly. The center planned to supply fresh fruits and vegetables to those who rely on the pantry through their one-acre farm at the Stanley Market.
“It’s a way to build community. It is a place where people feel they belong,” Blaurock said.
Mark Shaker, partner at Stanley Market, said the company donated one acre of their land to the nonprofit to help build community and opportunity.
However, in the past month someone has been causing damage regularly to the farm. Blaurock said it started with pumpkins and watermelons being destroyed. Then it evolved to water lines being pulled out of the dirt. Then, on Friday evening, a new shed went up in flames, as did the machinery inside.READ MORE: Denver Cops, Sheriff's Deputies Lagging on Vaccinations; 'There Is A Lot Of Pushback" Says Deputy Safety Director
“After the second and third vandalism, and now being set on fire, I now believe it is a hate crime,” Blaurock said.
“I am infuriated,” Shaker told CBS4. “We have an incredibly strong community, and one that supports all sides of our project.”
Fire investigators were at the garden on Friday evening collecting evidence and conducting interviews.
Blaurock said an estimated $10,000 worth of farm equipment was lost in the blaze which also claimed a $14,000 shed.
After cleanup and replacement costs, and the purchase and installation of a security system, the vandalism and fire could cost the nonprofit almost $75,000.
But, the cost to replace the lost goods may pale in comparison to the loss of moral from the volunteers and workers who have put many hours of their lives into making the garden a reality.
“I am too sad for what happened to the farm since that place is my second home,” Melissa, a worker on the farm, said after the blaze. “I take care of it and love it very much and we hope with love to make it beautiful again.”
The nonprofit is now fundraising to make the repairs and upgrade to the community farm.MORE NEWS: Colorado AG Report Finds Pattern Of Racially Biased Policing In Aurora
“We have refugees and immigrants that are here and not from this community, that are growing and building community in this space. So, it is a very upsetting situation,” Blaurock said.