By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Shop Owner Seeks Return Of Stolen Challenge Coins
There are a couple of glass cases with military memorabilia in the lobby of Freedom Smog, where Challenge Coins were stolen right out of the case during business hours. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS


Freedom Smog has only been open for a couple of months on Patterson Road in Riverbank and owner Cristina Portillo has made a plea to the community for any information helping to facilitate the return of Challenge Coins that were stolen from a glass case in her shop earlier this month.

The smog and oil change shop is a one of a few that she owns in the area. They offer active duty military and veterans a free smog check. Portillo is a very patriotic person and fills her stores with special military memorabilia from local heroes and their families.

“Many of our pieces are from ones that gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” stated Portillo. “We have the honor to display their pieces in our lobby so that they are never forgotten and many of our customers appreciate the stories of our heroes.”

Once you step into the lobby of Freedom Smog there is an American flag proudly displayed, along with a variety of military uniforms, a posted copy of the Pledge of Allegiance, a banner with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines on it and glass cases with military memorabilia.

“It started with one flag and all the memorabilia has been donated from families of veterans or the veterans themselves,” added Portillo. “From there our veterans started seeing the stuff we display and then they donated flags, uniforms, medals, and a lot of really neat things.”

Unfortunately, one of the closed glass cases fell victim to theft; Portillo said someone has stolen a collection of ‘Challenge Coins’ that were donated to the shop by a Vietnam Veteran that included coins given from Gold Star families. Those are families in which parents lost their son or daughter in war.

“I am devastated,” explained Portillo. “This has never happened in any of our shops.”

She added that the challenge coins are used by military members and it started in World War I. If somebody gives you a challenge coin, you are supposed to carry it with you wherever you go and if the person that gave it to you asks to see it and you have it, you are good. If you do not have the coin with you when they ask to see it, then tradition says you should buy that person a drink of their choice.

“Those things are priceless and it is my job to protect everything that is in here,” stated Portillo. “I figured maybe I have a small chance of getting them back. This is why I wanted to make sure to get the story out there to make sure the coins come back to their home.

“I just want the coins back.”

There is a cash reward being offered for the return of the coins with no questions asked.

Portillo estimated her businesses combined have given approximately $80,000 of free smog checks for the active duty military and veterans.

“A free smog check is nothing really; it is the least I can do for them,” she said. “We have stuff (donated by the vets) that belongs in a museum. I was very inspired to let their stories be known and shared by our customers that come into our lobby.”

Portillo is passionate about the opportunities that this country has given her and said she is extremely thankful to our military for their sacrifice to maintain our freedom, which is why she named her business Freedom Smog and Oil Change.

Anyone with any information on the stolen coins or for the return of the coins, call 209-869-4329 or return them to 2660 Patterson Road.