Community garden director says he won't press charges against thief

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Andre Lee Ellis is the director of 'We Got This' community garden, and he says the garden is about more than providing food to the community, it's a place to mentor local youth, too. 

So when he showed up at the garden earlier this week to find thousands of dollars in lawn equipment missing, he was hurt. 

He first noticed a couple of missing lawn mowers. 

"Everything that you use-- weed wackers to the rototillers, to the trash-pickers to the shovels. Not all of them, but a lot," said Ellis. 

He estimates about $3,000 worth of damage and missing tools. 

And it didn't take long for him to find the person responsible. 

"It's a young man, about 30 years old," said Ellis. "He comes to the garden for the free lunches and food and I can see that there's mental trauma there." 

Ellis doesn't plan on pressing charges. He says his job is to work with the youth, not put them into the system.

"We chose to do what the garden is supposed to do," said Ellis. "Help young Black men over here who are lost and walking on another path, find a better one."

Community members and organizations quickly stepped in to help. 

"We donated pitchforks, shovels, gardening gloves..." said Danielle Bly, one member of the community who stopped by Tuesday to drop off the donations.

Herzing University also donated one of everything taken. Herzing's director of diversity and inclusion collaborates with the garden to mentor young men. 

"Herzing said whatever was taken, we'll replace," said Ellis. 

Ellis has a message to people after the vandalism, "I'm asking that when you step out your door, give some respect. Put the guns away. Stop taking from one another." 

Anything extra that the garden has received in the process, Ellis says it will be used to provide more programs to youth in the area. 

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