from Holly Zachariah, the Columbus Dispatch
Donations sought for annual Stand Down event for veterans
Columbus, OHIO / October 11, 2017 Willis preaches the gospel of helping veterans just about anywhere he can, as evidenced by the story he tells about how just a few days ago a man wearing only a towel in the gym locker room had to listen to Willis’s pitch.
It’s just that important, he said.
He helps to organize Stand Down, the annual event for veterans in need held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. This year, it runs from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
“What they did, their service, secured our safety and allows us to live the way we do today,” Willis said. “One day of kindness isn’t too much to ask.”
Now in its 23rd year, the idea behind the event is to meet immediate needs of veterans and connect them with services.
Veterans can get free haircuts, health screenings, flu shots and eye and dental exams. They can see a municipal-court judge who tries to help with minor legal trouble and meet with volunteer lawyers to help with things such as evictions and debt-collection actions. They can meet any of the 80 social-services providers on hand, sit down for a catered hot meal and leave with bags of groceries and a new pair of Rocky boots.
Each year, about 550 veterans are served. The event could handle double that, so that’s one reason Willis spreads his message. He would love to have churches, civic organizations and community groups let veterans know about the Stand Down event and then help with transportation.
“I want more butts in the seats,” he said. “What a ministry! Load your church van with veterans, pack them on your school bus. Just get them here.”
One change in the event in recent years was the transition from distribution of used clothes to only new ones.
“Why should a veteran get a white shirt with a stained brown collar?” Willis asked. “Doesn’t he deserve a new one?”
The switch, though, has meant fewer donations. So far, there’s probably been enough items collected to fill half a box truck with clothes, hats, gloves and coats, but they’d like to fill it all the way, said Arica Morgan, a Volunteers of America director and Stand Down volunteer.
Large winter coats, sweatshirts and hoodies (even through 4X) are especially needed.
“We serve more than 500 veterans and if we have 50 coats, you can imagine how that’s going to go,” she said. “The larger sizes are perfect for veterans who must layer to keep warm on the streets.”
It used to be that Stand Down helped only homeless veterans. Then, they added veterans on the cusp. Now, the only requirement for help is a valid military ID. Access to affordable housing, however, remains a major need, Willis said. To help, Habitat for Humanity of Ohio has been added this year.
That organization has built two new homes for its veteran-specific program since it started it in 2012, has repaired 12 and has six more in the queue, said CEO E.J. Thomas, who spent 32 years as a pilot in the Air Force and the Air National Guard.
He said a veteran who will get his new Habitat home next summer will be at Stand Down to share his story.
“In the military, you are indoctrinated that operations are a team effort, so stepping out on your own isn’t easy,” Thomas said. “Stand Down will be an opportunity to meet veterans and say, ‘We’re here to help.’”