More than 125 veterans came together last Saturday to trade stories, make new friends, and help serve each other after jointly serving their country during the annual Armed Forces Day Stand Down at Sierra Pines Church.
Throughout the four-hour event, organized by Oakhurst nonprofit Caring Veterans of America, Inc. (CVA), veterans were gifted everything from new jackets and backpacks to medical checkups and a barbecue lunch.
“The purpose of this event is to get veterans together with other veterans so they can enjoy their company and help each other out,” said Terry Cole, CVA commander and a veteran of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division who served in Vietnam. “We especially want to give homeless vets as much as we can to help get them off the streets.”
Eileen Hayes, manager of the Veterans Affairs clinic in Oakhurst, said the annual Stand Down event was an important way for veterans to get the help they deserve.
“It connects veterans with all the services they may not have known about before coming here,” Hayes said. “The camaraderie that Mountain Area veterans share is incredible. Veterans helping veterans is a very apropos subtitle to the CVA here. Because they search out other veterans to help, that’s their whole goal, and they do a great job of it.”
During the Stand Down, veterans - homeless or not - had access to items such as military-style boots, backpacks, sleeping bags, canteens, hygiene kits, and clothing like jackets and full-dress green uniforms, alongside assistance from the Madera County Veterans Services Office, American Legion Post No. 110 in Oakhurst, the Daughters of American Revolution Foothill Chapter, California Department of Veterans Affairs, and the VA Central California Health Care System.
One special booth was set up for Lithia Nissan of Fresno, who Cole said donated $15,000 to the CVA to help it establish a permanent monument in Coarsegold Historic Village, with a groundbreaking ceremony set for June 3.
Katie Contreras, the company’s digital marketing manager who left the U.S. Army as a private in 2000, said it was important to give back to those who have fought for the nation’s freedom.
“This is our way of letting veterans know how much we appreciate them,” Contreras said. “There’s so many veterans out there who need this help. So whatever little we can give is our way of saying thank you for all you have done for us.”
Don Lewis, an electronics technician in the U.S. Navy from 1969 to 1975, said he was amazed by all the support.
“I’ve never been to one of these before, but it’s just great,” said Lewis, whose wife works for the Daughters of American Revolution. “We absolutely need these types of events to help out our veterans. I’m really glad it’s here.”
Cole said unfortunately, CVA’s funding from the CalVet has been cut in the past two years. But he said the group would continue fundraisers and other efforts to keep putting on the events.
“I don’t care if we serve one vet, 10, or 100,” Cole said. “As long as one vet shows up and we can get them help, get them medical benefits, and feed them and give them clothing, then that’s fine with me.”
The next Stand Down is planned for July 15, at either Yosemite Lakes Park or Coarsegold, with a final location yet to be decided.
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