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Veterans event at St. John Baptist rewards service with services
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St. John Baptist Church members Eddie Christian and Teresa Wilder receive a commemorative plaque from American Legion Post 328 Commander Kevin Littlejohn at the fourth annual Veterans and Community Resource Fair held Saturday at St. John Baptist Church in Gainesville. - photo by Alexander Popp

Every year on and around Nov. 11, Americans stand in support of the men and women who protect this country. Yet every year, there is more awareness that celebrating veterans once a year isn’t enough to keep many from getting lost in the shuffle.

For veteran Air Force officer Stephen McGruder, the way to help a veteran in need is by turning words and sentiment into action and connecting them with services they need.

“Every day I see veterans who are unemployed or underemployed,” McGruder said. “They deserve to raise their family without feeling like their service was for nothing.”

Flowery Branch American Legion Post No. 328 on Saturday spearheaded the yearly Veteran and Community Resource Fair at St. John Baptist Church in Gainesville. The event provided food, clothing, and information resources to veterans and the homeless of Hall County.

All day, veterans and civilians were welcome to peruse racks of shirts, coats and shoes, eat soup, PB&J sandwiches and doughnuts, and receive assistance from groups like the Department of Labor and the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary.

“After seeing veterans every day who need help, a lot of times it feels like I’m not doing enough. So I felt it was really important to help,” McGruder said. “We all come from this community, and this event is a way for us to tie all those groups together.”

He said getting all of the veteran resources together into one place can be tough, but the outcome is worth it.

“Those resources, the Department of Labor, the Department of Veteran Services, and the Social Security Administration are at the heart of this event, and can put those in need on the path to becoming job ready,” McGruder said.

According to St. John Baptist pastor Stephen Samuel, the church typically tries to limit the number of events held on church property, but was happy to support Saturday’s due to the impact it has.

“This is an issue that is so easy to ignore, so it’s up to us to put it out front and shine a light on it,” Samuel said.

Of his congregation, more than 30 members are veterans from one or several conflicts. One such member, Deacon Eddie Christian, is a Vietnam War vet. He said he has seen many veterans over the years who don’t know what services are available.

“They might not be able to get to the VA, they might not get to the Labor Department, they may not know what to ask for,” Christian said. “So when you bring it in the community, it’s an awesome thing.”

He said the St. John location is perfect for connecting with people who may have not known about the event but saw it as they passed.

“Its great for word of mouth. We had a woman stop today and tell us that people could come get a turkey from Antioch Baptist,” he said. “So maybe we will have turkeys next year.”

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