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Already struggling Valparaiso resale shop now battling dropbox thieves

Already struggling Valparaiso resale shop now battling dropbox thieves

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VALPARAISO — To combat the growing problem of thefts from its donation dropbox, the First Presbyterian Resale Shop is considering a cellphone app to notify them when someone is in the alley.

Pam Skaltsas, manager of the downtown store, said raiders rip off items in the box about four times a week, including twice Wednesday night.

"We've had problems for years," Skaltsas said. "We've tried different things, different kinds of locks, and then we installed cameras, which seemed to slow them down for a while. We've left notes for them. We know who some of them are, and we've talked to them."

She said the thieves argue the items were donated and didn't cost the shop anything. While that's true, the money raised from the sale of the items is needed to pay the rent and utilities, Skaltsas said. Any profit is given to local charities. Without the profit, they can't help the community.

"It's not hurting us as much as it's hurting them. Last year we gave several thousand dollars to various charitable organizations. This year's been tough, and I don't know what we will do."

The shop is run by volunteers, and the coronavirus fears have reduced the number of volunteers from 40 to 20 because of their age and health conditions that make them more susceptible to the disease. As a result, the remaining volunteers have to work longer hours, and Skaltsas said she's concerned about burning them out.

"We are just asking the thieves not to take stuff. If people are really in need, we've given out stuff. If you come in with $5, you could walk out with an outfit. If we have an overabundance of donations, we put stuff out for free. People root through that, and it gets pretty messy fast, and the city doesn't like that."

Although she estimated the dropbox is hit four times a week, she said it could be more. Often the store volunteers don't know if it's been hit unless the thieves leave stuff scattered around. The camera films what's going on, but Skaltsas said they don't always have time to view the tape to see if anything was stolen. Other times they've seen people make as many as five trips to their car from the box.

"The police have offered to patrol more often, but they have a lot to do with everything going on now. We are still getting a lot of donations, but with the coronavirus and others things, there's a bigger need. We could take the thieves' pictures and give them trouble, but we don't want to do that. We are trying to do the right thing."

The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Skaltsas said it would be best if people brought donations then or on Mondays when volunteers are going over donations, but she knows that isn't always possible. If the thefts continue, the store might have to close because they won't be able to pay their bills.

"We can't say enough about the community (making donations), and we want to be here for them."

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