Veterans have been signing up to attend the eighth annual Veterans Stand Down on Saturday, and even more have been signing up since August to volunteer to help. “All the veteran social clubs from the Vietnam Vets of America to the American Legion Riders — their hands just shoot up when we ask for volunteers,” said Sandy Agalos, who has been coordinating the event for Supervisor Steve Lavagnino’s office.
Agalos counts on at least 500 veterans of America’s wars to come to the Santa Maria Fairpark to visit representatives from the Veterans Administration — to help with whatever snafu has developed — or get housing assistance, flu shots, podiatry care, and vision screening, or just sit down to a Santa Maria-style barbecue lunch with friends, family, and volunteers alike.
“Vietnam veterans are the bulk of our guests,” Agalos said. “And the youngest we help has been 23 and the oldest 95.” The outreach strives to contact homeless vets, who number 38,000 nationwide according to the Military Times. “We re-evaluate what we do every year for the homeless veterans,” Agalos said, adding that they followed up with as many as they could of the 171 vets who registered last year. “We look forward to touching base with them again this year.”
Housing is one of the chief goals of the Stand Down’s eighth year. Together with local homeless organizations, Vets Stand Down is in touch with individual property owners, discussing how to make their rentals more accessible to veterans through federal grants and help from the Housing Authority and Habitat for Humanity.
“Vandenberg Air Force Base is a big part of the event,” Agalos said. “The airmen and women — as many as 150 of them volunteer — stay with the veterans throughout the day. They come early to get familiar with the layout and map out how to help each veteran get all the services they need.”
Community generosity includes $10,000 from the Santa Ynez Valley Opportunity Shop and $2,500 worth of clothing, toiletries, and other supplies from the Santa Barbara Elks Lodge. The Walmart in Santa Maria created a donations link for the Stand Down, for such items as underwear, shoes, sweatshirts, children’s clothing, sheets, towels, blankets, personal hygiene items, and storage bins with lids.
The Veterans Stand Down takes place at the Santa Maria Fairpark from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 19. For more information, see sbcountystanddown.com.