California State University, Long Beach
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Funds Raised to Replace CSULB Alum’s Stolen Custom Wheelchair

Published: October 1, 2009

Elaine Touch, a recent CSULB graduate whose wheelchair was stolen in May while she watched a movie at a local theater, received a new custom wheelchair on Sept. 18 during a special event at the university’s Disabled Student Services’ (DSS) office.

An outpouring of support generated by a fundraiser launched by CSULB President F. King Alexander and Long Beach City Councilman Gary DeLong paid for the wheelchair. The final cost of Touch’s new fire-engine-red wheelchair was $3,400.

“We are celebrating this event to recognize the many individuals and organizations that not only gave generously to help Elaine, but also contributed to the creation of a campus fund that supports future disabled student emergencies,” said Alexander. “This is only the beginning of what we hope will help many of these wonderful and courageous students.”

Besides the DeLong Family Charitable Fund’s donation, other contributors to the fund were the Long Beach Grand Prix Foundation, the Long Beach Police Officers Association, Mitsubishi Electric and Electronics USA, Inc. and several generous private donors. The wheelchair’s designer/builder, ATG Rehab, also reduced the price by additional $400.

Alexander added that the Long Beach Press-Telegram is also to be commended for “playing such an important role in raising community awareness and helping us all to make lemonade from a couple of bad lemons that left a sour taste in our entire community’s mouth.”

“President Alexander called me when it happened to offer his apologies and support, which was just amazing. After it was stolen, I borrowed a wheelchair that my friend who works in the medical supply industry acquired for me, but it was not that comfortable because it was a little too big and I wasn’t sitting right,” said Touch, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from CSULB last year. “The chair that was stolen was custom made for me and I was pretty worried at the time about trying to find a new one.”

With a friend when her wheelchair was stolen, Touch was “extremely embarrassed” when she found it missing after the movie. Touch, who is “very independent,” has always tried to make her disability less of a burden to others.

A few days later, due to the persistence of one of Touch’s relatives in moving the search for the wheelchair and the thieves forward, the theater discovered that its security surveillance cameras had caught two males stealing the chair. However, the surveillance footage has yet to generate any substantial leads in the case. Long Beach Police Department detectives are still investigating the theft.

Elain Touch
Photo by Victoria Sanchez
Director of Disabled Student Services Dave Sanfilippo (l) with Elaine Touch and CSULB President F. King Alexander.

DSS Director David Sanfilippo is not surprised by the outpouring of support from the university and the community in and around Long Beach. After the theft, DSS offered to loan Touch a wheelchair and provide support, as the center did for Touch when she was a student.

“This was a horrible crime, but the goodness of people who came forward in this crisis is just amazing,” he said. “Disabled Students Services is glad to be a part of this and to help in any way we can. Our center has always strived to do what we can to help those with disabilities be as independent as possible—whether that is helping them get a college degree, a job or the physical things they need to make it all happen.”

Touch is touched by the outpouring of support she has received.

“I’m speechless about what the president, the councilman, DSS and everyone has done for me. I was at Cal State Long Beach for six years and the people who work in DSS were always kind and accommodating, and I really got to know each one of them personally,” she said. “I never expected them and everyone else to come and help me in this way.”