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October 22, 2014

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Giving community helps UNLV graduate student overcome rude welcome to city

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Steve Marcus

UNLV graduate student Rebecca Lovelady, talks about the theft of her moving van during an interview at her home Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. The family lost nearly all their possessions when their moving truck was stolen earlier this month but the Las Vegas community helped out with donated furniture, goods and a fundraiser after their story was broadcast on KNTV-Channel 13 news, she said. In the background are her sons her experience her sons Preston, 5, and Theirry, 7, and boyfriend Rob Williams.

Community Helps Robbery Victims

UNLV graduate student Rebecca Lovelady, talks about the theft of her moving van during an interview at her home Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. The family lost nearly all their possessions when their moving truck was stolen earlier this month but the Las Vegas community helped out with donated furniture, goods and a fundraiser after their story was broadcast on KNTV-Channel 13 news, she said. In the background are her sons her experience her sons Preston, 5, and Theirry, 7, and boyfriend Rob Williams. Launch slideshow »

When Rebecca Lovelady started her master’s program last month at UNLV, she delivered an interesting introduction to her new classmates: the story of how her family lost all of its belongings and how her new community rallied to help her family.

Last month, the Oregon native, along with her boyfriend and two young sons, packed up all of their belongings into a Penske moving truck and headed to Las Vegas. Lovelady had been hoping to catch a fresh start in Las Vegas and was accepted into graduate school at UNLV in hopes of earning a master’s degree in social work.

The family turned in an application for a new home and was excited to embark on a new chapter, Lovelady said. While waiting for word on the home, the family would stay at a Henderson Holiday Inn Express.

The next morning, the family woke up to find their moving truck stolen from the hotel parking lot.

Everything – furniture, television sets, clothing, baby pictures – was gone.

At first, Lovelady thought the truck had been towed. Her boyfriend, Robert Williams, went to the lobby, where a Henderson Police officer was talking to another man who had reported his Penske moving truck missing from the same parking lot. That truck was found later at the Sunset Station Hotel & Casino parking lot with the medical equipment still inside, according to Henderson Police spokesman Keith Paul.

Lovelady had no friends or family in town and her closest relatives lived hours away, in Reno. Williams talked to police while Lovelady stayed in the room and took care of her children, 7-year-old Theirry and 5-year-old Preston. Preston kept pressing his mother about when they could get his toys back, Lovelady said.

Lovelady believes someone had stolen the truck using a master key or filed the edges of an older model key.

The next day, Penske called Lovelady and said Metro Police had discovered the truck and had taken it to a dealership on Hacienda Avenue. She believed that some valuables, such as stereos and computers, would be taken but surely, the clothing, toys and personal items would be left alone.

When the family arrived and opened the truck, it was almost empty. A hope chest of personal items, from her children’s report cards to their first baby blanket, remained. But gone was everything else, including photographs she’d kept since grade school, diplomas and her children’s first locks of hair.

That was when the family appealed to their new community for help.

The family explained their situation to a local television station. Viewers moved by their plight started contacting the station and offered household donations.

One viewer, Jan McAdams, asked if there was a drop-off area for the donations. Not willing to share her address, Lovelady said there wasn’t one.

That was when McAdams decided she would find a drop-off area for the family.

Two stores turned down McAdams before she spotted the Desert Springs United Methodist Church at 120 N. Pavilion Center Drive. She approached the church with the idea and its leaders agreed to help.

At least 30 people stopped by the church the morning of Aug. 22 to drop off donations.

“The rain was serious that day but people kept coming, umbrellas and all,” McAdams said.

Lovelady was present to deliver hugs to donors and shed tears of gratitude. Donors told her it broke their heart to think about someone losing all of their belongings and hoped the theft would not sour her feelings about Las Vegas, she said.

Lovelady was able to fill her Chevy Suburban twice with donations such as kitchen appliances, food and linens. One woman sent her husband to CVS pharmacy with $200 and instructed him to buy every toy he could for Lovelady’s boys.

“This guy comes back loaded to the gills with bags of toys, and the boys just thought it was Christmas,” McAdams said.

By Aug. 25, Lovelady told McAdams, “It’s starting to look like a home.”

Comedian Michael Shank emailed Lovelady and offered to host a fundraiser for the family. Half a dozen people showed up at the Las Vegas Grille for the benefit show.

“It’s how Las Vegas responds. I’ve never seen (a need) go unmet,” McAdams said.

As for Lovelady, the experience has given her a lesson in humility. She said she planned to give back to the community by volunteering in the future.

“When something bad happens, if the community pulls together, amazing things can happen,” she said.

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