Free store for veterans burglarized for 7th time in 6 weeks

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Veterans Free Clothing Store on West Broad Street is a no-frills operation.

Funded, and run by, volunteers. Veterans helping veterans.

"A number of them have been traumatized in some way, whether it was at home or at war," said Bernard Pontones of the Veterans First Foundation. "They just just had a difficult time reconciling that with what they're trying to do here. They don't feel comfortable, they don't feel welcome, they don't feel at ease at all."

Some of the people served here are homeless. Others have shelter, but little else.

All of them have served their country.

"It's a shame. Because after serving in the military, you'd like to come home and feel welcome. But that doesn't always happen."

Here, they find an open door, and a helping hand.

"They gather their toiletries, clean underwear, clean t-shirts, pants if they need them, jackets if they need them, blankets if they need them. Because you'll find them down under 270 and around that area."

But overnight, thieves forced their way in and helped themselves.

"They've pretty much cleared us out of boots. So that's about 50-60 pairs of boots. Generally this is filled with body wash, shampoos, deodorants, shaving creams," Pontones said, pointing to empty shelves.

Items that would have gone to vets in need, now just gone.
"It's disheartening. You like to think you're doing some good for the neighborhood and the community, and clearly we're just not doing enough for some people."

What's worse, this isn't the first time it's happened.

"Seven break-ins in a period of six weeks. So it's been pretty devastating."

The front of the store looks like something from a hurricane zone. What were windows, now covered with plywood.

"They broke out that side. And then two days after that, they took out our temporary repair. And then two days after that they shattered the opposite window."

To the people responsible, Pontones says, "Stop. Come in and ask. We're not absolutely foreign people. We're just human like you. Come in and ask."

And in the meantime, these veterans will continue their service.

"We're just picking up the pieces and moving on. That's what we do."

Columbus Police are investigating the break-ins.

For more information on the Veterans Free Clothing Store: 614-307-8274, veteransfirstfoundation@gmail.com

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