Arson damages NW Houston thrift store

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Patricia Dornak and her team at the Ministry Assistance of the Near Northwest Alliance were about to join forces this week with a church to distribute food and water to the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

The organization, which provides emergency assistance to families, offers nutrition education information and financial classes, and provides referrals to counseling, gets some of its funding from sales at its small thrift store in northwest Houston. The store is also an official drop-off site for donations to be taken to BBVA Compass to aid storm victims.

But Thursday morning, someone set the store at Rosslyn and West 43rd on fire. All of the contents, from clothes and jewelry to toys and furniture, were destroyed.

“We try to do good, and for someone to come along and do this is just heart-breaking,” Dornak said Thursday afternoon, a couple of hours after Houston firefighters extinguished the flames. She said authorities told her they believe the fire was deliberately set, and that the same person who Monday night broke into the back of the store to gain access to a Dollar General discount store next door was responsible.

Police and canines tried to track down the burglar that night, meanwhile, members of MANNA’s board of directors repaired the back door, she said.

It was a MANNA board member who alerted her to the fire about 6:40 a.m. Thursday. That member got a phone call from a mutual friend who happened to be driving by the store and saw the flames. Dornak said police speculated that the burglar had returned, again breaking the back door. Before setting the store on fire, the intruder scrawled profanity and “nasty messages” on a refrigerator kept in the store’s office area.

“When you see those kind of messages, they don’t care,” said Dornak, who has been executive director at MANNA for five years.

The fire was especially painful for volunteers, she said. “This is their heart,” Dornak said.

As her husband, Tom Dornak, and board members Justin Gordon and Chuck Coon were placing new bolts on the back door, people _ some with donations, others ready to shop _ drove up in trucks and cars to the front of the store. After hearing of the fire, they offered their condolences and then their help.

MANNA rents the property and has insurance, said Dornak, who expects to meet with an adjuster soon. No estimates of damage was available Thursday.

She praised her neighbors at Dollar General, saying they provided surveillance video to fire department officials on Monday and donated plywood to board up the thrift store.

Smoke from the fire permeated to the discount business, where store owner Jeff Berger was cleaning up in Thursday afternoon heat. He couldn’t spend much time there, he said, because he had to go to another store, one flooded by Harvey.

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