Hundreds of veterans, their families, and their caretakers flooded the La Porte County Fairgrounds on Friday, August 19 for Goodwill Industries of Michiana’s Veteran Stand Down event.
At its core, Stand Down is about connecting veterans to the resources they need and letting them know many appreciate their time and sacrifices to the United States.
“We just want to get them taken care of, and hopefully they leave knowing that we appreciate their service, that we've gotten them help, or have gotten them attached to something that maybe they needed,” said Goodwill Veterans and Families Program Manger Jill Powers.
Stand Downs offers resources to veterans both at a community and state-wide level. Many vendors were present at the Fairgrounds to assist vets in whatever they may need, including financial services, medical care, insurance services, and many others. “I’ve seen some of the clients come through and be very grateful,” said Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP) Specialist Chris Vasile. “They're very happy for the services they receive and the information they've gained from coming to the Stand Down.”
Vets also had a chance to freshen up their looks with a free haircut and enjoy a delicious free meal with the help of the Northern Indiana Food Bank. They could pick up hygiene bags from the Disabled Veterans National Foundation and receive new clothing such as socks, underwear, sweatshirts, and boots. Goodwill partnered with St. Joe Beacon to offer free COVID-19 vaccines as well.
Having these resources available means a lot to the veterans. Knowing these options are out there and that so many people care about their well-being warms their hearts, something Powers has seen first-hand.
“My favorite part is organizing it and then seeing how much the vets enjoy being here,” Powers said. “The ‘thank yous’ and the happiness you can see on their face, especially when they're seeing that they can get new pairs of socks that are brand new or a new jacket or scarf - it means the world to them; it really does.”
Vendors such as Vasile also enjoy being present to help the veterans in their communities.
“There’s so much information that they can receive; all the benefits that they might be missing out on education benefits, health benefits, Veterans Administration (VA) disability claims; it's just a wealth of information for them,” he said.
Goodwill hosts a total of six Veteran Stand Down events during the year across Northern Indiana, covering Elkhart County, St. Joe County, Kosciusko County, Marshall County, La Porte County, and Porter County. The organization also has two more Veteran Stand Downs planned for the remainder of 2022: one in Portage on Friday, September 23, and one in Plymouth in mid-October. In addition to the Stand Downs, Goodwill offers services to veterans year-round as well.