The day started with a free pancake breakfast and a chance to snag as many clothing and toiletry items as possible.
Then, Benny and Lynn Castro of Santa Maria walked their two large Akita dogs — Taisha and Niche — to a pet care station at the Santa Maria Fairpark, where bathing, licensing and other free services were provided during Saturday’s first-ever Santa Barbara County Stand Down event.
“He’s been wanting to come since he’s seen the poster,” Lynn Castro said.
Benny Castro, a Marine veteran, was one of many former servicemen and women who came out to Stand Down. Similar events have been hosted around the country since 1988 through efforts of the Veterans Affairs Department.
Posters for the event, intended to feed, clothe and help shelter veterans, went up about 14 months ago after Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino decided to spearhead the event.
“With shots and everything, we couldn’t afford it,” Lynn Castro said of upkeep for their two dogs. “My husband has bad eyes; and the dental. Everything for free.”
A mix of uniformed Vandenberg Air Force Base volunteers, veterans and their family members gathered for a morning opening ceremony before disappearing among the hundreds of free services offered.
“To all the veterans who are here, welcome home,” Lavagnino said. “Thank you for your service.”
Several other officials spoke and thanked veterans for their service, including Santa Maria Mayor Larry Lavagnino, who commended his son’s efforts.
“People don’t realize what pride you have after serving your nation,” said the elder Lavagnino, a Navy veteran. “I’m just so happy about what’s happening.”
More than 100 different organizations and about 350 trained volunteers donated money or time to the event, which was in full swing from 7 a.m. to after 4 p.m.
The 63-year-old said he has already been receiving veteran services, but he came to pick up some free stuff for veterans at his church.
Felix Rangel of Arroyo Grande talked with legal services representatives, who may have helped him find a job.
Rangel, a Vietnam veteran, walked around Saturday with Vandenberg volunteer April Wimmer at his side to carry freebies and guide him around.
“These guys have given so much,” Wimmer said. “It’s just a chance to say thank you.”
Rangel said he was grateful for the free help from Wimmer and the rest of the donors.
“These are great,” he said. “They helped me. They made my day and my whole year.”