From free haircuts to housing assistance, veterans and family members were connected with a variety of services during Monday’s Cowlitz County Veterans Expo and Stand Down.
The annual event brought in over 100 attendees and about 40 vendors to Calvary Chapel in Kelso, said Tony Katzenberger, stand down chairman. The stand down gathers resources for veterans and their families into one place, giving them easier access to services they may need, he said.
Katzenberger said Monday’s turnout was 42 percent more than last year’s, but said he expects it to double next year, when the event will be held on a Saturday.
Event participants included Workforce Southwest Washington, The Salvation Army, Southwest Washington Housing Authority, Community Home Health and Hospice, the state Department of Veterans Affairs and more.
Veterans sat at many of the tables with service providers, giving those looking for help someone to relate to, said Ada Hutson, stand down committee member.
“It’s a good event,” said one vet who declined to be named. “They do a lot of good.”
The event also offers assistance for homeless veterans and family members, and it’s an opportunity to work to get them off the street, Katzenberger said.
An employment transition coach with the Armed Forces Resource Center in Vancouver, Sonja Wood, came to help unemployed and underemployed attendees. Wood said she helps veterans and family members create or update resumes and find job openings, education programs or apprenticeships.
Employers, including Lowe’s and KapStone Paper and Packaging, participated in the small-scale hiring event and opened up their websites so attendees could apply for positions.
Volunteers handed out bags of toiletries. Rite Aid pharmacy workers provided free flu shots in the back of the sanctuary.
Attendees also got a free hot meal courtesy of the Kelso-Longview Elks Club.
Kalama American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars post commanders Ron Madderra and Edward Farrell handed out information about the organizations and talked to fellow veterans.
Farrell said the event needs more advertising to reach more veterans. The event is one way the VFW helps struggling vets, he said.
Kalama veteran Randy Hahn helped start the stand down more than 10 years ago. The veterans organizations have participated every year, he said.
“It feels good for us to give back,” Hahn said. “A lot of veterans have trying times, and the ones that are able to like to give back.”
Down the hall, Lisa Wolf and Mary Holt of Hot Locks Hair Studio gave 40 free haircuts. This was the first year the women participated in the stand down, and Wolf said she take part again.
“It’s nice to see people get the help they’re needing,” Wolf said. “It’s amazing to hear what they’ve seen and been through. It’s kinda touching.”
In the same room, Alyssa Joyner of Workforce Southwest Washington, handed out coats, hats, backpacks and other supplies. The items are from the Department of Defense, surplus from companies, or are donated, she said.
Joyner, a veteran herself, said participating in the stand down gives her a good sense of community.
“It’s a great event, I’m glad we do it and I’m glad to be a part of it,” Joyner said.