Sunday, February 18 , 2018, 6:42 pm | A Few Clouds 58º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Santa Barbara County’s Stand Down Lifts Up Local Veterans with Hope, Services

Donations, volunteers fuel third annual, resource-rich gathering at Santa Maria Fairpark

Carlos Madrigal got a huge teddy bear, shoes and much more.

Garwin Weiting’s dog, a Yorkie named Naomi, received veterinary care.

And Shevonne Harris took advantage of services offered before switching roles to volunteer in the clothing area at the Santa Barbara County Veterans Stand Down.

They were among hundreds of former military men and women to receive services and donations during the third annual Stand Down on Saturday at the Santa Maria Fairpark.

“Our hope is you make yourself at home because you’ve earned it,” Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino told the crowd during the opening ceremony. “Welcome home.”

Lavagnino launched the local Stand Down three years ago, rallying donations and volunteers with his aide, Sandy Agalos, whom he credited with turning a “logistical nightmare into a wonderful day.”

Sponsors and donations come from throughout Santa Barbara County, and include corporations such as Raytheon and InDyne; nonprofit organizations like Santa Maria Elks and Santa Barbara Elks lodges, and the Santa Barbara County Cattlemen’s Association; and individuals who just wanted to help. One good Samaritan dropped off 650 pairs of socks while another family offered a few towels.

“This is truly a community effort, and each one of you is amazing,” Lavagnino said.

Several airmen from Vandenberg Air Force Base also volunteered, serving as escorts for the veterans.

Dr. Ruth Corbo checks the microchip of Garwin Weiting's dog, Naomi, at the Santa Barbara County Veterans Stand Down. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
Dr. Ruth Corbo checks the microchip of Garwin Weiting's dog, Naomi, at the Santa Barbara County Veterans Stand Down. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The event is funded through the various donations plus a federal grant, Lavagnino explained.

This year’s event added blood-pressure and blood-glucose monitoring along with giveaways of rain coats and boots. Additionally, the event had women doctors for female veterans, increased the number of bus tokens and included an alterations station to make clothing repairs.

The Stand Down was designed to serve up to 500 veterans, but the final number helped Saturday wasn’t expect to be available for a week. While geared toward all veterans, the event targeted special services for homeless veterans, including round-trip transportation from Santa Barbara.

“This year is exponentially easier,” Lavagnino said. “Our volunteers have stepped up in a huge way. ... Now they’ve just taken over their areas.”

Those familiar with Stand Downs held in smaller and larger counties said Santa Barbara County’s rates best for its friendliness and helpfulness.

With the Fairpark filled Saturday morning, Lavagnino said it’s unreal to see the veterans and volunteers.

“I think there’s a pent-up need for a lot of people to let our veterans know how we feel about them,” Lavagnino said. “This is very cathartic for me as well as all of the volunteers. I’ve said it many times, I think I get more out of this than any veteran walks away with.”

The first year, the event aimed at getting veterans various donated items. Now, the Stand Down works to get veterans reconnected to the community and familiar with the services they earned.

Carlos Madrigal, left, was accompanied by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ubaldo Barrios, who toted bags of goodies and a giant stuffed bear that had been given to the veteran. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
Carlos Madrigal, left, was accompanied by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ubaldo Barrios, who toted bags of goodies and a giant stuffed bear that had been given to the veteran. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Harris, a Righetti High School graduate who served in the Army from 1983 to 1989, attended the first Stand Down and broke through a barrier of getting help she sought to get her military disability.

“It had been taking forever,” she said, adding Stand Down volunteers set up medical appointments and other steps needed to get approval of her disability within six months.

“Actually when I came I had no intention of getting services,” she said of her time at the Stand Down three years ago. “I was just volunteering because I was so glad.”

After visiting service providers Saturday, she planned to volunteer in the clothing giveaway area.

“This is the best thing,” she said.

Harris said she has encouraged younger veterans to take advantage of the event’s services after getting help herself, saying many don’t even know what they need until seeing what’s available.

“You’ve got all these people here who want to do something, who want to help you, who want to give you services,” she said. “Why not get them?”

A former soldier, Madrigal was escorted around the Fairpark on Saturday by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ubaldo Barrios, who carted a couple of big bags filled with various items, including the giant stuffed bear that already had been named Carlos for its new owner.

They had already picked up shoes, a sleeping bag and toiletries for Madrigal, who enjoyed the attention brought by the bear being carried by Barrios.

“See, what did I tell you, bro?” Madrigal told Barrios. “Carry a bear around with you all the time.”

Ron Herbig of Lompoc attended for the third time with his dog, Juanita Chiquita Margarita.

“I think it’s marvelous, actually,” said Herbig, who served in the Army from 1962 to 1968.

In addition to the help, the Stand Down provided a chance to unite with old friends he hadn’t seen for some time, he added.

But more important, the Stand Down has provided a place to get services while meeting with representatives face to face instead of having to deal with maddening telephone calls, Herbig said.

The help wasn’t just for veterans, but included four-legged members of their families, like Weiting’s Naomi, a Yorkie who received a check-up, vaccinations and ear medication.

“It’s phenomenal,” said Weiting, a Santa Maria resident who served in the Navy on the aircraft carrier, USS Saratoga, during the Vietnam War. “To me, these Stand Downs are just unbelievable. I”m so proud to be a part of it — mainly for the homeless vets who are left behind. They need this desperately bad. To see this kind of stuff go on for veterans is so nice.”

Santiago Salutan’s dog, Toby, also received an exam and reluctantly had his nails trimmed, much to his dismay.

“It means a lot,” said Salutan, who served in the Army from 1967 to 1969. “He’s needed to get his license and some of his shots he didn’t get. I really appreciate it a lot.”

He said he was overwhelmed by the services offered to veterans Saturday.

Dogs also were given flea baths nearby and the owners could pick up a bag of free food.

Inside one Fairpark building, dozens of agencies, nonprofit groups and others set up booths to help veterans with a variety of services.

Hoss Diego represented the Central Coast Amputee and Caregivers Peer Group, which is open to veterans and civilians alike.

“I think this is great,” said Diego, who served in the Army for nine years. “This is really good. It lets a lot of veterans know they’re not forgotten.”

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.

Hoss Diego talks about the Central Coast Amputee and Caregiver Peer Group during the Santa Barbara County Veterans Stand Down. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
Hoss Diego talks about the Central Coast Amputee and Caregiver Peer Group during the Santa Barbara County Veterans Stand Down. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

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