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Childrens Hospital Thrift Shop Closes After String of Burglaries

Five truncated mannequins stood naked in the store window. A bowling ball rested on an otherwise empty bookcase. And a lone sign remained taped to the glass door: “There is no money in the store at night.”

These were the last testaments to the Childrens Hospital Thrift Shop--a 38-year-old Reseda institution that closed Tuesday after five burglaries caused hundreds of dollars in damage and drove away volunteers too frightened to work there.

“We all feel bad,” said Sylvia Watson, president of the group of volunteers who ran the shop. “It’s crying time.”

The thrift shop was operated by the Valley Heart Guild to raise money for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, a 331-bed pediatric treatment facility.

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The guild is one of 32 nonprofit groups dedicated to organizing charity events for the hospital, including dinner dances and debutante balls. Four other Childrens Hospital thrift shops run by other guilds remain open throughout Southern California.

But volunteers at the Reseda shop--many of whom joined the guild 20 or 30 years ago after their children were treated at the hospital--said they had no choice but to close their store on Sherman Way.

Revenues at the store had declined during the recession, and many volunteers had left active duties because of family or health problems, Watson said. But the guild could have handled those problems had it not been hit by five burglaries in seven months, which left volunteers reeling.

Police records show reports of five burglaries, attempted burglaries and petty thefts since June. Other reports that may have been filed were not immediately accessible, police said.

Watson said that burglars entered the store three times through the roof, removing a ceiling panel in the bathroom to crawl into the store. Once they broke into the business next door and punched a hole in the wall to get into the shop. Another time, the burglars apparently took a grocery cart, loaded it with a cement parking stop and rammed it through the glass-paneled back door, Watson said.

Not that there was much to steal. The first time, burglars took $53 in cash and the last time they escaped with $153 worth of costume jewelry, Watson said. During several escapades, the burglars picked up only five or six dollars in petty cash.

Volunteers tried to stop the break-ins, appealing to would-be criminals with signs saying that the store had no money and posting one that scolded, “When you steal from this store, you steal from the children.”

But the burglaries continued, damaging the building and destroying volunteers’ morale.

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“A lot of them were very skittish because they were afraid that someone was going to point a gun in their face and demand money,” said Ruth Gradle, the volunteer who ran the thrift shop. “It just got to be an insurmountable problem.”


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