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Community rallies behind burglarized American Legion post

Above: American Legion Post 416 in Encinitas was burglarized last Saturday night and the thieves stole roughly $1500. Photo by Jacob Aere

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas community has rallied behind a local American Legion post that was burglarized for the first time in its nearly 90-year history.

Thieves reportedly broke into the American Legion San Dieguito Post 416 in downtown Encinitas early June 16, making off with three bank bags full of cash amounting to $1,500.

San Diego Sheriff’s Department detectives are investigating the burglary.

Veteran Rolf Ohnstad points to the damage on the door where burglars broke in to American Legion Post 416 and took $1500 last Saturday night. Photo by Jacob Aere

Post Commander Matt Shillinburg said that bartenders left the cash bags, which contained Saturday night’s bar earnings as well as lottery ticket sales, inside a liquor cabinet, as they always do overnight. The legion deposits the money on Monday morning when the bank opens.

When Legion members arrived Sunday morning to prepare Sunday brunch, they saw that the back door and liquor room doors were broken into and the money bags were gone.

No other valuables — including flat screen TVs and liquor — were stolen, Shillinburg said.

“Everyone is upset, on our social media pages, people are outraged that someone would steal from veterans,” said Shillinburg, who is a retired Army officer. “Stealing is bad enough, but taking from veterans, especially considering where the money goes, is really bad.”

The bar, food and lottery ticket proceeds help fund the American Legion’s two signature programs, the American Legion Boys State, a selective educational programs of government instruction for U.S. high-school students, and the American Legion Baseball program, which the legion revived in San Diego last year.

Shillinburg said the post pays for the lodging, transportation and incidents for students selected to attend Boys State, which is held in Sacramento, as well as for uniforms and other costs for the baseball program.

Additionally, the legion contributes to other local programs such as Boy Scouts, he says.

“A lot of businesses and community members have reached out to express how sad they were that this happened to the American Legion post, because we are such an integral part of the community of Encinitas.”

The backdoor at American Legion San Dieguito Post 416 in Encinitas was pried open by burglars who stole $1500. Photo by Jacob Aere

The community has quickly responded by donating thousands of dollars to help restore the lost funds. Legion 1st Vice Commander Kerry Cortinas set up a fundraiser on the group’s Facebook page, which has raised more than $2,100 in less than two days.

Veterans Green Coffee in San Marcos has also pledged to give the post a security camera system — the post did not have security cameras or an alarm system.

“We just want to say thank you to the public for reaching out to us so that we are able to replenish the funds that go these programs,” Shillinburg said. “We are so thankful that the public stepped up to help us out.”

Meanwhile, Shillinburg said, the legion has changed its cash handling procedures to ensure nothing like this happens again.

“All cash is put in the safe as of Sunday,” Shillinburg said.