My name is Silvia Holman and I have been working for the Elks National Veterans Service Commission for almost 20 years.
This November, the ENVSC once again organized Elks HQ employees here at the Memorial Building to volunteer at the Chicago Standdown at the Illinois National Guard Northwest Armory. I volunteered for this event before, and I was thrilled to do so again.
The Chicago Standdown helps homeless veterans stock up on winter clothing and other supplies to help them get through the cold Chicago winters. Veterans in attendance also received a hot lunch, housing assistance, time to schedule appointments with VA staff, and more.
We’re always working to improve the services available, so this year there were barbers on site, and veterans could take home fresh produce. Elks made sure that each veteran who attended received a winter hat and warm fleece gloves. Elks Scholars also attended and handed out thank you cards made by local students.
Outside of the physical supplies available, veterans also had the chance to relax for the day and enjoy camaraderie with their fellow veterans in the big, warm Armory.
Every year, this is a very rewarding experience for me. At the event, I usually help veterans with their plates at the serving line. Often, they are carrying large plastic bags with donated items. Many are elderly or have disabilities and it is difficult to balance a plate and utensils.
I ask them what they want from the servers and carry their food and a beverage into the dining area where there are large sheet cakes waiting for dessert. I like to set their places as if they are in a restaurant, and I make sure they have everything they want. The smiles on their faces, their feelings of being safe and warm, if only for a little while, is humbling to all involved.
I feel as if I know many of these veterans. I hear and understand them because my husband is a Viet Nam Veteran. For me, volunteering at this event and serving these veterans is an honor, and immensely rewarding.
The next time you hear of a Veterans Standdown in your community, please volunteer to help out. You won’t regret it.
To find a Standdown near you, visit the National Coalition of Homeless Veteran’s website: http://nchv.org/index.php/service/service/stand_down/.
If you don’t have a Standdown nearby, this site gives you some practical ways to start one! It doesn’t have to be big. If it helps one veteran, it’s worth it.