It was during a four-month stint in the hospital that 84-year-old Korean War veteran Felix Lopez learned his home was burglarized.
“They took everything, I mean everything,” the Visalia man says. “My pillow, my shoes, my stereo system – they took everything.”
Burglars even took his two dogs – German shepherds that neighbors were feeding while he was away.
Since he got hospitalized in April, more than 100 volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, The Home Depot Foundation, AMVETS, Rotary, and Naval Air Station Lemoore have rallied to fix up the veteran’s one-bedroom home and replace his stolen appliances.
Words cannot describe what I feel right now because of what these guys are doing.
“I was stunned,” Lopez says of learning that people wanted to help him. “I couldn’t believe it. It was unreal. They told me they would replace everything.”
Projects include installing new floors in the bedroom, living room and dining room, doors, windows, a toilet, bathtub and security system; landscaping his yard; and building a wheelchair ramp to replace stairs leading to his house. Lopez now uses a walker and wheelchair to get around.
He was hospitalized after falling while doing yard work. His house was burglarized shortly after. He was released from the hospital in September and has been living with his brother, Jim, also a veteran, in Bakersfield.
Lopez should be able to return home mid-December thanks to the volunteers’ repairs to his house. His dogs are still missing, but a neighbor gave Lopez a new German shepherd about a month ago that he named “Loba.”
“Words cannot describe what I feel right now because of what these guys are doing,” Lopez says. “They’re going above and beyond their means and they are not charging me a cent.”
On Thursday, a Home Depot team also presented Lopez with new tools to replace those that were stolen, and hung a new Marine Corps and American flags on the flagpole outside his house. Lopez fought in the Korean War as a Marine Corps rifleman. He became a mechanic after the war and retired at age 62.
It’s exciting to be part of a project where so many people come together to help a veteran, but also to build a stronger community for all of us.
Curtis Justice, store manager of the Home Depot in Tulare, says the work is a way to give back to veterans “for everything they’ve done for us.”
Dirk Holkeboer, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Tulare/Kings Counties, is excited about what the team of volunteers has accomplished.
“It’s exciting to be part of a project where so many people come together to help a veteran,” Holkeboer says, “but also to build a stronger community for all of us.”