By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla, (August 18, 2014) – It takes much more than a village to provide for veterans.
Have your doubts? Ask Tammy Shirley of the St. Johns County Veterans Service Office. Saturday was the culmination of a year’s worth of work to pull off a successful stand down for the homeless veterans of St. Johns County.
“This is my first year doing it on my own,” said Shirley. “Prior to this I worked with Heather Andrews who spearheaded the event for several years. She made it look easy”
This year’s stand down at the Elks Lodge on Anastasia Island was a great success. About 30 veterans and 50 civilians were served. Most of those being served were single but there were several cases of husbands and wives. Many of the homeless were under 30 indicating the toll war has had on our young people.
Each person who came was met at the door by a volunteer. In many cases, that volunteer was a member of the Marine Corps League, Oldest City Detachment # 383. The volunteer escorted them through a number of stations to make sure that they were getting all the needed assistance available to them. This included county and federal offices. Veteran were brought to the VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic table where a number of staff were available to get them into the medical system. Besides medical there were a number of other agencies including Legal Aid.
“We allowed the veterans in first,” said Shirley. “In the back of the hall we had a myriad of G.I. surplus goods. “We had mats to put on the ground under the sleeping bags, mosquito netting, back packs of several sizes,” continued Shirley, “There were many pairs of boots and tons of clothing for men and women.” “After we processed the last veteran, we closed that section off and began with the civilians.”
The Elks Lodge made the shower rooms available so people could clean up. Just before the showers were bags of toiletries, clean towels, and undergarments. Once through the showers was the line to get a haircut and the line was continuous.
“We could not have accomplished this task without the help of the many veteran organizations in St. Johns County,” said Shirley. “I owe much to them, the Elks Lodge, and to the Veterans Council of St. Johns County for being here for the homeless.”
“Being veterans, we are in a unique position,” said Bill Dudley, current chairman of the council, “of understanding the needs of other vets. Many can empathize, but few really know and understand.” “Our purpose, as a council, is to be of service to our veterans and veteran organizations. I believe we currently have 28 organizations represented in the council.”
“We also wish thank Two Men and a Truck for their help transporting the surplus goods,” continued Dudley, “and especially Leonardi Nursery for sending Brian and his forklift to unload the pallets. We could not have done it without him.”
After the drawing for special items came the food generously supplied by the Elks Lodge. The hot dogs and hamburgers were a hit as always. While all this was happening up front, in the back room the surplus items were gathered up, binned, and made ready for a trip back to the VA to be shared at other stand downs in Florida.
Many times were heard the words “God Bless You for being here.”
“We do not do this for the glory,” said a veteran who wished to remain anonymous, “We do it for our brothers and sisters. This is what one does for family.”
Even though everyone signed a release knowing their photo may be taken and published, I chose to NOT photograph the faces of the homeless out of respect for their dignity. These is my own personal view and should not, in any way, shape, fashion, or form, reflect on any other photojournalist.