MIDDLEBURY - Le Bobadel Gourmet Market, in Middlebury, is a very popular place. So popular that, during the Fourth of July weekend, the crowds masked a thief, who stole a donation jar, with money earmarked for the construction of a custom home for a crippled West Haven soldier.
"We have been involved in a lot of the charities and fundraising over the years, since we opened, but this is the first time something terrible like this has happened," said Aref Ahmed, the owner of Le Bobadel, who estimates there was likely less than $5 was in the jar when it was stolen.
The jar, with an estimated $5 in it, taken July 1, which was U.S. Army Specialist Sean Pesce's 24th birthday.
"It's just a little ridiculous," said Pesce. "I'm kind of at a loss for words that someone would even stoop that low."
A Naugatuck woman supplied Le Bobadel with the fundraising jar, which features a photo of her granddaughter, as part of a "cutest baby" competition.
"It's a contest for homes for our troops, to help build a handicap home for a local veteran," said Pam Curley, whose granddaughter, Bailey, won the contest.
On October 12, 2012, while serving in Afghanistan, on his last mission before coming home, Pesce was paralyzed, from the waist down, after being shot 13 times. He recalls it all.
"From when I was shot up until them getting me off the roof top and carrying me to the field for the helicopter to come medevac me out," Pesce said.
The lot and construction of Pesce's home, to be built in Bethany, will cost over $400,000. A Newtown woman has raised over $11,000 this year for the project.
"I am an American and this is an American soldier and we have to help provide for them what the government isn't doing," said Lois Barber, a fundraiser for Homes For Our Troops since 2010.
The story has so touched Le Bobadel's customers that Ahmed say customers are coming in specifically because they heard about the theft.
"This morning, I had about half a dozen people who came in to donate some and I gave them free coffee to thank them for their good deeds," he said.
In fact, Barber believes this story is making some people so mad that it may result in more successful fundraising efforts.
To learn more about Homes For Our Troops and Spc. Sean Pesce's story, click here.