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‘Stand down’ event assists area veterans

POSTED: November 24, 2013 12:23 a.m.

When veterans return home, the transition into civilian life can be difficult for some. Yet there are organizations to help them make it as smooth as possible.

The Hall County Veterans Coalition group — which comprises local veterans’ groups such as the American Legion Posts No. 7 and 328, Elks Lodge No. 1126, Marine Corps League Upper Chattahoochee Detachment No. 665 — held its “Stand Down” event Saturday at St. John’s Baptist Church in Gainesville.

The event helped local veterans who are homeless or struggling find guidance on issues like employment and health. They also served food and gave away new clothes. The HCVC provides year-round assistance to veterans throughout the community.

The term “stand down” during times of war meant a time of rest and recovery in a place of security away from the battlefields. Now, the term refers to community-based programs designed to help homeless veterans.

Stephen McGruder, commander of Legion Post 328 and an Air Force retiree, helped organize Saturday’s event. McGruder works with the Department of Labor and veterans, specifically.

“We wanted to do something to help the veterans in the Hall County area,” he said. “I know I see the need being in the position that I’m in. So I just wanted to put the two together (work and coalition) and do something good for the vets.

“And it’s the holiday season and I don’t see a better time to do it.”

McGruder said the community or individuals can contact any related organization to help a veteran who may need it.

“It doesn’t matter whether they were in the Coast Guard, Navy, Marine Corps, Army or the Air Force, We all made sacrifices, and there’s nothing more fulfilling than helping out your brothers and sisters,” he said.

McGruder said the biggest need he sees is proper counseling for struggling veterans.

Terry Strickland, an Air Force veteran who was formerly homeless, said he now lives off his pension.

“Before the VA’s help, I spent several winters under the bridge,” he said. “You don’t know if someone is going to kill you or not.”

Strickland lives in a Gainesville boarding house, paying $75 per week.

“The VA has been real helpful to me. I hate asking for help, but if you need help, you need help,” he said.

“Every day is Veterans Day for us, not just once or twice a year,” said volunteer Gary McBride of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter No. 17-Gainesville, Hall County. “We’re on a constant mission that never ends. We work on this every single every day. The needs (of veterans) are always here.”

The Elks Lodge No. 1126 helped finance Saturday’s event by getting a grant through its national committee. The money given went toward clothes given away, said Larry Emmett, past exalted ruler of the Lodge No. 1126 and current No. 7 member.

“It’s a great feeling to help anyone,” he said. “A lot of us have been blessed since we got out of service to be able to be in Gainesville and in this great community.

“It’s just a little time and very little money, and we’re glad to do it. ... It’s a great feeling of joy, especially this time of year. Here we are at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We just give back to the community.”

Johnny Varner of Legion Post 328 said he was moved Saturday when a homeless vet wanted a hug because he said, “he had never had one.”

“It feels good to see that and to help people,” Varner said. “I think we all are genuinely the same people. We’re Christian soldiers. We’re veterans. That’s what we do is help people.

“A lot of these veterans have fought for their freedom, and some of them have been neglected. We’re here to be a resource for them.”

Varner said the homeless veteran also got a tarp and a pair of shoes. The shoes were given to the man directly off the feet of one of the veterans who was volunteering Saturday.


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