LUMBERTON — Volunteers dispatched as far as Red Springs on Friday to bring people to the 2016 Veterans and Community Stand Down.
Event hostess Lisa Jo Douglas said Veterans Affairs representatives from Raleigh were in attendance to help veterans start processing claims, as well as mental health resources, Social Security benefits and lunch.
“This is for everyone,” Douglas said.
Joanne McNulty, Margaret Cheatham and Cheatham’s grandson, David, spent the day serving up free plates of barbecue chicken, green beans, pasta salad and rolls.
“I was here first thing,” McNulty said, as she fanned herself in the hot kitchen. “When I first got here, they had me serving hot Starbucks coffee and cinnamon rolls.”
McNulty said there was “quite a good turnout,” and that everyone seemed to enjoy the lunch. “Some came back for seconds.”
Vietnam veteran Gilbert Zereen of Lumberton enjoyed a free hair cut provided by Robeson Community College barber student Edwin Floyd Jr. Zereen, who served from January 1969 to September 1970, appreciated the attention and services that were offered during the stand down.
“I was just a dental specialist at a hospital in Vietnam during an 18-month tour,” he said. “But I was there.”
Zereen makes sure to point out his specialization because “a lot of people think the Army is nothing but combat soldiers, but we were young specialist,” he said. “A lot of people don’t think about doing things like that in the Army.”
Karen Higley, a member of the Lumberton City Council, also made an appearance to present city of Lumberton pins to event organizers Karla Carter, CEO and founder of K&L Veterans Home and Services, and Lecinda Thompson.
Carter took advantage of the opportunity to convey the dire needs of homeless veterans in the area to Higley.
Carter told Robeson County commissioners in March that it costs $43 a day to house and feed a single veteran.
Thirty-eight homeless and disabled veterans have stayed at the veterans home since it was opened in October 2008, Carter said in March.
“We have the biggest population of homeless veterans right here in Robeson County,” Carter said. “I can only house six. We need another house.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that on any given night 47,725 veterans are homeless.
According to Carter, K&L is the only veterans home in the area. The home receives calls daily from the VA for a veteran looking for a place to live. But once a veteran finds space at the home, “they don’t leave.”
Carter emphasized the need to get veterans “out from under the bridge.”
“We need funding,” she said.
Higley said she was ready to present their needs to City Council.
“If we need to have a plate sale, we’ll have a plate sale,” Higley said. “We don’t want them sleeping under a bridge and hunting for somewhere to sleep.”
This is the third year that K&L Veterans Affairs Homes and Services has sponsored the stand down, which was open to all veterans and the community at large.
Carter anticipated the attendance of about 300 people from Robeson and surrounding counties. An exact count was not immediately available at the close of the event.
More than 736,000 veterans live in North Carolina, according to the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina. UNC estimates that Fayetteville and Jacksonville are home to the highest percentages. More than one-third served in Vietnam.
Reach Juanita Lagrone at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 910-416-5865.