A look into Santa Barbara County’s eighth annual ‘Veterans Stand Down’

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A look into Santa Barbara County’s eighth annual ‘Veterans Stand Down’

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Veterans from Santa Barbara County came together at the Santa Maria Fairpark on Saturday, October 19th, for the eighth annual Veterans Stand Down. Stand Down is an event for all American veterans that grants access to over one hundred different service providers and countless necessities and treats that make everyday living much easier. The best part? It’s absolutely free.

Well over five hundred veterans showed up to the event, which was made possible by over six hundred volunteers. A large number of the veterans are homeless, without a job, and/or unhealthy. Stand Down is specifically aimed towards those in crisis, but all vets are welcome. The event started with a large pancake breakfast free to all veterans. There was an opening ceremony as well that featured ex-military officers as color guard and a stellar performance of the Star Spangled Banner. A tri-tip lunch with side dishes was served a couple hours later. The main feature of Stand Down, however, was all the volunteers eager to serve local veterans in every way possible.

(Color Guard)

 

In the Park Plaza Building, the man in charge was Orcutt Academy parent Frank Mejia who oversaw all of the service providers. There were organizations offering help for everything: health care, employment, mental health resources, financial aid, education, housing, legal matters, disabled veteran services, and so much more. Select providers also gave out gift cards to different restaurants, hundreds of bundles of food, and free cell phones that came with service.

(Service providers in the park plaza serving veterans)

The most heavily used service was legal aid, provided by the Santa Barbara County Public Defender’s Office. They mainly helped veterans who needed assistance in clearing up infractions, warrants, and taking old crimes off their records. Most of these veterans have little to no way of contacting the Public Defender’s Office, so having several attorneys at Stand Down helps them a lot. In addition to the free services, the veterans were able to pick up bus passes at no charge and at unlimited quantities. The passes were good for Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Lompoc transportation.

Across from the Park Plaza Building was the Convention Center where a massive amount of donated goods were handed out for free. Headed by county employee Sandy Agalos, the Convention Center’s items included shirts, pants, undergarments, socks, jackets, duffel bags, hygiene products, sleeping essentials, and items for children. Over two hundred pairs of brand new shoes were distributed. There were also hairstylists and barbers available for haircuts, showers accessible to the homeless, medical professionals performing different examinations, vital checks, and flu shots, and even veterinarians evaluating the many pets that came with their ex-military owners.

Veterans participating in the event were paired up with an active member of the military from Vandenberg Air Force Base. These volunteers helped guide the vets to the different providers, and they helped carry all of the free items collected at the different booths. Often times, veterans who are struggling tend to be forgotten about, when they should be highly valued and treated with honor and thanks. At Stand Down, veterans are given the gratitude they deserve. The current soldiers all bond with the veterans, which gives them the sense of belonging that they need.

(Veteran Taylor Edwin Farrell “Moses”)

Homeless veteran Taylor Edwin Farrell, known by others as ‘Moses,’ participated in Saturday’s Stand Down for the third time. “I love it,” he says. Moses’s favorite part about Stand Down is the fellowship he receives from the people around him. “I like to hang out with the active soldiers. I love to hear their war stories and what’s going on,” he shares, “I mean, yeah, the free stuff is cool, but I think being with all of these guys is what makes it truly rich.” Coming to Stand Down every year has helped Moses tremendously. He may still be homeless, but his well-being and overall comfort has improved more than he ever thought possible. “I’m very pleased and blessed with all the stuff that I have. I’m just thankful our country is what it is: merciful and compassionate.”

Since 2012, Santa Barbara County has been putting on this event, which grows more and more each year. Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino started the event after seeing an episode of ‘60 Minutes’ that featured the same type of event in San Diego. Inspired, he recruited Mejia and Sagalos to help put on this event that has now helped hundreds of thousands of veterans and their families state-wide.

(Congressman Salud Carbajal and Miranda Mejia)

Several representatives of California come to support Stand Down, including Congressman Salud Carbajal. Carbajal is a veteran himself, a factor that strongly influences him to make the trip from Washington D.C. to the central coast each year. “I can relate to the needs and challenges that our veterans have in our community,” Carbajal says, “This annual event continues to bring service providers out, so we can make sure our veterans have access to benefits that sometimes, they don’t even know about.” Carbajal admires Lavagnino, who happens to be his former colleague, for “having the vision and leadership to make this happen.”

Just as the volunteers are grateful for the veterans who served the United States, the vets are always impacted too. For some, it really hits home. Army veteran Kelly Jackson was in the military for twenty-three years, sixteen of them spent on active duty as a medic. After retiring, he couldn’t find a job anywhere, for no one would hire him. But thanks to Stand Down, he has started over as a bus driver and is forever thankful for the help he has received. Even though his only housing is his van, Jackson has high hopes for the future.

(Veteran Jacquelyn Jones)

Homeless Army veteran Jacquelyn Jones came to Saturday’s event for her second consecutive year with her partner. He is also a veteran from the army. Throughout the years, Jones has struggled with financial and mental health issues that have affected her way of living. “My favorite part about this is the people,” she says. Given her situation, help is always needed. Stand Down has done just that for her, for which she is humbled. Jones is especially grateful for the food, backpacks, jackets, and other clothing items available to her, for every day is another struggle.

One of the most touching parts about Stand Down is how so many veterans who once slept on the streets, have now become volunteers themselves. The impact this event has on veterans is real, and continues to grow every year. Vets have gone from homeless to living in an apartment, from drug addiction to sobriety, and from hopeless to hopeful. Now those vets want to pass on their experience to with others. “It’s always great to come here and see the community do so much for our veterans since they have done so much for us,” Carbajal concludes.

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