ELKHART — A diverse group of military veterans found plenty of supplies and services — as well as some camaraderie and appreciation — during a Stand Down event Saturday at the Disabled American Veterans facility, 1205 Middleton Run Road.
Volunteers handed out large backpacks loaded with supplies and boxes full of food. A bounce house for children and cornhole games gave the event a carnival-like atmosphere.
Indoors, veterans could get a free haircut or advice on how to find a job or apply for government benefits. Some veterans carried bags and collected personal care items, information about housing opportunities and coupons for discounts on dental care or dinner at area restaurants.
"There's a lot of information and services and products here — things you might not even think to ask about," Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran Paul Martin of Elkhart said.
Another Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran, Randy Lester, said he appreciated the supplies and services but also enjoyed talking with other veterans about their experiences and getting some attention from the community.
"I think this is a really nice event," Lester said. "It's nice to see people showing veterans their appreciation for serving their country and doing the job."
This was the fifth stand-down in Elkhart, according to Jill Powers, veterans program manager for Goodwill Industries Michiana. She said stand-downs were a time during the Vietnam War when soldiers could come in off the battlefield to get a hot shower and a good meal, perhaps address health issues or get fresh supplies — and rest.
"Now it's a community-based event," Powers said. "The idea is to get as many resources under one roof at one time as possible."
As many as 150 veterans were expected to take advantage of the four-hour event.
Kelly Friend, director of career and business engagement at Goodwill, said private-sector donations and the work of volunteers were an expression of the community's appreciation for sacrifices made by the veterans. She said the stand-down allows veterans to stay engaged in their community and gives them and their families a chance to stave off higher-than-average rates of divorce and suicide.
"This really is the best part of my job," Friend said.
Doug Shaffer, owner of Doug's Sports Cut in Goshen, expected to provide about 25 free haircuts Saturday. He said he enjoyed talking with the veterans and was happy to help.
"It's pretty awesome," Shaffer said. "These are good people, and it's a lot of fun."
Ty Alliss, business process manager at Lippert Components, was organizing the 35 or 40 volunteers, many of them from the company, who were helping to carry supplies, park cars or hand out lunch. Some of them spent time just talking with those who served their county. Lippert employees are involved in a lot of community activities, Alliss said, but this one is "near and dear" to many who have friends or relatives with military backgrounds.
"This is a good cause," he said. "It's nice to talk with the veterans and hear their stories. They served us and we're happy to serve them if we can."