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Veterans outreach event set for this weekend
Areas first Stand Down to take place at South Hall school
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Johnny Varner has had a tough time explaining what a "stand down" is to prospective supporters of a two-day outreach effort to help veterans with needed services.

"But I'm optimistic (about the event's success)," he said. "This is the first time we've done it, so we're counting on people realizing what we're doing."

Varner, American Legion Post 328 commander, has helped organize a grass-roots effort to serve veterans through haircuts, health screenings, counseling and referrals to other needed services.

The event, "North Georgia Stand Down 2011," is set for Saturday and Sunday at The DaVinci Academy at 3215 Poplar Springs Road in South Hall

"It's been one of the toughest projects I've taken on, and with a zero budget," said Varner, director for on-site services.

"Donations didn't come in because (people) didn't know what it was."

Similar service projects have taken place throughout the country through the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

The original Stand Down was modeled after the concept used during the Vietnam War to provide a safe retreat for units returning from combat operations, according to the organization's website.

Stand down also refers to a truce, or a temporary end to combat.

"It's always an annual event in metro Atlanta," Varner said.

The local event got started with an email from former Hall County Commissioner Deborah Mack.

"There are a lot of veterans out there who need help and I know that there are some who are homeless," she said in an interview earlier this year.

Varner said he wasn't sure how to pull off the event, but decided, after talking with another veteran, that "we would just have to make it work."

The Universal Benevolence Center in Suwanee is helping direct the event, which will feature many organizations, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Varner said he was extremely grateful the Hall County school system allowed the event to take place at the academy, with events taking place in the old South Hall Middle School gymnasium and football field.

South Hall Middle, now located a few miles away at 4335 Falcon Parkway, sponsored a drive, as a student project, to supply green beans and rice for the event, Varner said.

The DaVinci Academy is providing Styrofoam plates and cups.

Area businesses also are donating food.

Churches and other groups are helping with meal preparation.

Van transportation will be provided to veterans who need it, and tents will be set up as overnight accommodations for homeless veterans.

"Depending on weather, we may have to move (housing) inside to the gym," Varner said.

"It's getting kind of chilly out there now."

Overall, Varner said, "we've got enough partners planned (for the event). Now, we've got to make sure we get enough people there to serve."