Ideas for how to help a relative whose tool-filled van was stolen.
February 27, 2018 7:02 AM   Subscribe

My nephew in-law's van was stolen from out in front of his house yesterday in Detroit. Him and my niece are a stand-up couple that work hard for all they have and this is a really sucky thing to happen to them. How to help without positioning them as needy?

The van was filled with their house-painting & home repair tools. They're all gone and the tools were how he made a living.

They have a pretty large circle of friends and acquaintances, and some are suggesting a GoFundMe to help raise money to help replace the van & tools.

He and I have chatted about it, but we both kind of feel a GoFundMe does not always reflect well on their recipients. It's also possible that the GoFundMe might just advertise to the next thief that here's a guy with a pile of money who just got a bunch of new shit (to steal).

I've reached out privately with an offer to help with money. Besides that, what ideas might you have with how to help my niece and nephew and encourage others to help. They need to replace their van and get some tools so that they can keep making a living.

posted by bricksNmortar to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you tell us where insurance fits in -- or doesn't?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:28 AM on February 27, 2018 [12 favorites]

house-painting & home repair tools Make a list of needed supplies. I don't see a registry option at Lowes or Home Depot, but ask in person. Have a Van Shower. Ask guests to bring tools and supplies they may have, or to choose from the registry. I was given a new drill set for Christmas, so now I have an extra drill; tons of people have spare tools. Have an actual party, make chili, get beer, have a tip jar for cash, gift cards, checks. One of my credit cards has a cash back option where I can get gift cards at a discount and Lowes, Home Depot, Ace Hdw. are always an option with 10 - 20% off. You can also post on and freecycle for tools.

A GoFundMe does not have to be super public. You can name the project something without his name and send the link by email.

If you have decent credit, and if you are sure can afford it, you could co-sign a loan for a used replacement van with good locks. He should have a toolbox that comes in the house at night, and ladders must have good cable locks to the van. Pretty much every person I know in the trades gets tools, ladders, generators, etc., stolen; that's how they learn to take better precautions. You can buy cable at the hardware store and cut it to fit, or buy heavy cable locks. A dedicated thief will have a bolt cutter, but most thieves are opportunistic idiots.

If this van wasn't insured, the replacement van has to be. Tools are so easy and popular to steal that insuring them may not be reasonable. Got pictures of the van? Share by email.
posted by theora55 at 7:29 AM on February 27, 2018 [15 favorites]

Do you have spare time and a car of your own? I don't know much about Detroit police, but your question seems to be based on the assumption that the thieves will not be found and the cops will not recover the goods. In your shoes I would take a couple days and mount my own investigation: if you have any serial numbers or pictures of any of the high-value tools you can go to pawn shops in the area and try to locate them. Once you have found the tools you can present the information to Detroit PD who may be able to take the lead and locate the idiot who stole and sold the stuff.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 7:31 AM on February 27, 2018

Can you tell us where insurance fits in -- or doesn't?

Insurance doesn't fit in.

My nephew typically did bring his tools in overnight, but he got complacent and left them in the van yesterday. He's sick about it. The theft occurred during the day, between 2pm and 9pm.

Thanks for the great replies so far.
posted by bricksNmortar at 7:36 AM on February 27, 2018

The local United Way might be able to point you to resources (maybe there's a community tool bank, or an agency that gives emergency loans/grants?)
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:49 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

If he hasn't checked, and he's just assuming his home owner's insurance won't cover the tools because they weren't in the house at the time, please suggest he specifically check. A typical policy will cover your belongings regardless of where they were when they were stolen.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:53 AM on February 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

With regard to this reflecting well on them... The exact same thing happened in my neighborhood (but the man was a carpenter) and after his wife shared the gofundme to the neighborhood social media, the victim was immediately chastised/attacked/criticized for being a tradesperson without insurance on his tools, much less on his car. Few donated and I think that it did hurt his reputation on the neighborhood social media sites.

If I were to do this, I'd work hard to make a list of all the tools and their value (with links to Home Depot or whatever) and tabulate the exact replacement cost. A random amount guessed doesn't seem as legit or professional.
Same thing with the cost of a new van.
I'd also give a sincere explanation for the lack of insurance and lessons learned. This may head off criticism.
Some people also like to talk about their families in these things. Or how hard things will be without income. This varies in effectiveness.

Then send it privately to friends. Don't share it widely. Don't encourage people to share it widely.
posted by k8t at 7:53 AM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Co-sign a loan?
posted by Leon at 7:58 AM on February 27, 2018

I don't know much about Detroit police, but your question seems to be based on the assumption that the thieves will not be found and the cops will not recover the goods

The thieves will not be found and the cops will not recover the goods. Unfortunately.

Your nephew might want to look into whether he's eligible for a loan from the Detroit Microenterprise Fund.

In future, he must understand that being insured is as important as adhering to safety codes--no corner-cutting to save money. Having an uninsured van full of tools on the street in Detroit, even these wasn't a question of if, but rather when, they'd be stolen.

Good luck to him.
posted by praemunire at 8:09 AM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

In any major city, tools are really valuable in theft - they are one of the few goods that hold their value (or at least hold high value) at resale/pawning. People like to buy tools used too. (And maybe your nephew should.) They're also small, portable, and easily concealed. It is unlikely that your nephew will get them back. However, filing a police report and going through the process of notifying local pawn shops might not be a bad idea.

With auto theft, typically cars are used for a brief period of time and are found a few weeks later a neighborhood away. Vans on the other hand, hold value too. People that need vans really need them and the used market is huge.
posted by k8t at 8:30 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just a thought, if he bought any of the tools using a credit card within the last two years he may have loss protection for them. If not, he should gather purchase records so he can deduct the loss on his taxes.
posted by bq at 2:47 PM on February 27, 2018

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