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Veterans Turn Up by the Hundreds for 4th Santa Barbara County Stand Down

At a packed Santa Maria Fairpark, organizers link up military members with a wide range of community assistance

Penni Turner gives Steven Prophet a haircut at Saturday’s Santa Barbara County Veteran Stand Down. Turner, herself a disabled veteran, was among the many stylists volunteering their services at the Santa Maria Fairpark event. Click to view larger
Penni Turner gives Steven Prophet a haircut at Saturday’s Santa Barbara County Veteran Stand Down. Turner, herself a disabled veteran, was among the many stylists volunteering their services at the Santa Maria Fairpark event. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

From haircuts to pet care to clothing, hundreds of veterans converged on Santa Maria Fairpark on Saturday to take advantage of free services at the fourth Santa Barbara County Veteran Stand Down.

With a light drizzle falling from the overcast sky, a small army of volunteers helped veterans from multiple generations connect with a wide assortment of services and supplies, with extra attention for homeless veterans.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who started the local event, noted the veterans were the special dignitaries for the day.

“I just told the veterans this day is about them,” he said. 

By 9 a.m., the Fairpark’s main parking lot had filled up and an overflow area was opened.

“If we fill up the Santa Maria Fairpark parking lot, we’re doing something right,” Lavagnino told Noozhawk.

The Veteran Stand Down focus has changed to make sure the event isn’t just a one-day event for the veterans with the most needs.

“It’s more geared now toward reconnecting them with the community, trying to get them job referrals, housing assistance, things that will last all year ...,” Lavagnino said. 

The goal was to connect veterans in need with county Social Services Department staff so representatives could remain in contact with them throughout the year.

One veteran who arrived from Santa Barbara had a meltdown when he found out dental services he expected may not be available, but the man calmed down and ultimately was connected with mental health services with plans for a dental appointment in the future.

Lompoc resident Mark Ulmer checks in his dog, Roo, to receive a bath at the Santa Barbara County Veteran Stand Down. Click to view larger
Lompoc resident Mark Ulmer checks in his dog, Roo, to receive a bath at the Santa Barbara County Veteran Stand Down. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

While many veterans drove themselves to the event, the organizers arranged free transportation for those in the Santa Barbara area plus the Lompoc and Santa Ynez valleys.

They were provided breakfast and barbecued lunch, and were offered a bag of fresh produce upon leaving.

Approximately 90 service providers, many set up in the Park Plaza Building, offered veterans a chance to talk to representatives from a variety of agencies and organizations, including the Social Security Administration, the Employment Development Department and Veterans Affairs.

Across the way, the Convention Center had backpacks, shoes, clothing, hygiene and dental products, and haircuts.

Veterinary services, pet baths and food supplies were available for animal owners, with dozens of leashed dogs waiting to be seen.

Lompoc resident Mark Ulmer dropped off three-legged Roo for a bath, and left with a big bag of toys and treats for his buddy, who quickly sniffed out the box of Milk-Bones.

At the Lompoc Valley Medical Center booth, Ulmer received some nicotine patches to help him stop smoking.

“I’m going to try to quit,” he said.

World War II veteran John Nagy of Santa Maria sat on a bench outside, watching the crowd.

“I think it’s great, especially it helps the guys that are homeless,” the nearly 95-year-old said. “Us guys that have everything, we don’t need the services, but thank God they do it for the vets that are homeless. That’s what I’m happy about.”

Nagy hoped to find out information about how to get included on an Honor Flight Network, where older veterans are flown to Washington, D.C., to see the National World War II Memorial.

Even though he was among veterans who didn’t need all the opportunities offered at the Stand Down, Nagy said he appreciated the services.

“It’s a real nice affair,” he said. “Everyone’s friendly and there’s a lot of help.”

Stand Down organizers are challenged each year trying to estimate how many veterans to expect, said Lavagnino, who explained that they build on the numbers from the previous year.

“There’s a lot of preparation that goes into it, but now that it’s here, we’re ready to rock ’n’ roll,” he said shortly after the opening.

Lavagnino and aide Sandy Agalos led a small army of volunteers who make the event a reality.

“There’s really too many to thank,” Lavagnino said. “There’s just such an outpouring of support.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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