HAZLE TWP. — Stand down is the term used by military personnel to explain the time spent between operations, moving out of an alert state to a resting one at camp where they can stock up on supplies.
Though they are embroiled in a different battle, the homeless and poverty stricken can stock up on supplies and clothing similarly before they go back to their lives through VALOR Clinic Foundation’s Stand Down event Sept. 17 in Hazleton at 702 W. Broad St., next to the Hazleton Shopping Center, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Stand Down Hazleton will function just like VALOR’s other no-cost Stand Down events in the state which feature a mobile clothing closet, food pantry and soup kitchen.
Held previously in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area and the Lehigh Valley, this will be the first time it mobilizes in greater Hazleton, where free health screenings from nurses and fresh haircuts from a hairdresser will be offered at no cost.
Hazleton was selected as another Stand Down location due to a “significant” need being identified, according to a volunteer, Jeff Sullivan.
How often Stand Down will mobilize again in Hazleton, or in any other town, is dictated by how the community responds with donations and volunteers.
All of the items given away are donated, said Sullivan, of East Stroudsburg, who works at Fairway Subaru in Hazle Twp. He already has reached out to those in greater Hazleton’s homeless population, meeting them at places they visit, to let them know who he is and how VALOR, a military support nonprofit group, can help them all regardless of their military service or lack thereof. Sometimes they are apprehensive to allow him to approach them, but he finds a way to connect to many.
Sullivan said when a homeless man, Kenneth Reichart, was beaten in Hazleton and assisted by VALOR recently, it brought a lot of public attention and interest to homelessness in the area and to VALOR’s work.
Right now VALOR is in need of nonperishable foods in pop-top containers — those that don’t require a can opener — such as soups, chicken, tuna and other ready-to-eat meals like pastas that will be given away at the food pantry. Fruit juices, canned fruit, canned vegetables and peanut butter are also needed.
Various drop-off locations will be staged at area businesses and will be announced in the Standard-Speaker and on VALOR’s Facebook page. So far, the Hazleton American Legion Post 76 has committed to a canned food drop-off Sept. 3.
Through this Stand Down event and what he hopes will be others, Sullivan hopes to fill in the voids in already established food giveaways and free community meals in greater Hazleton.
He believes the Hazleton giveaway will reach 100 people but noted it’s hard to say just how many will show.
Food bags handed out during Stand Down will be split into categories —one for sheltered people and one for unsheltered people who have no access to kitchen tools and devices.
Volunteers are needed to help set up the day of Stand Down and sponsors also are being sought. Those interested in getting involved can call Sullivan at 908-319-8140 or VALOR’s headquarters at 570-664-6468. Though many of VALOR’s volunteers are veterans, some are people who may not have a direct tie to military life but are inspired to help veterans out of respect for their service.
They believe, Sullivan said, that the country’s service to the veteran should begin when the veteran returns home.
Sullivan, an Army veteran, got involved with VALOR while attending a motorcycle run fundraiser for the group at Pocono Mountain Harley Davidson, Stroudsburg, a few years ago. He spoke to founder Mark Baylis that day, asking what he could do to help, and Baylis asked him for a donation from the company he works for.
Business sponsors have stepped forward to help. Among them are the Corazza family, which owns Fairway, Sullivan said. For every $ 1 donated to VALOR, Sullivan said, 93 cents goes back to the veterans.
Some veterans, for various reasons, don’t have a place to call home when they return to the United States. That’s why VALOR created Paul’s House at Hotel Jonas in the Polk Twp., Monroe County, village that bears the same name.
VALOR formed in 2008 after Baylis, who had experience advocating for veterans including himself when he began receiving medical bills for injuries sustained in battle, found a need to help homeless veterans. He began a small food pantry and then he obtained the Hotel Jonas in 2014 with grant money, Sullivan said, and renovated it as donations came in.
The house is named after Maj. Paul Syverson, a decorated American hero from Illinois who fell to enemy fire in 2004 in Iraq and was friends with Baylis. He was 32 when he was killed in action.
Today, Baylis and his fiancée, Amy Midlam, and a host of other volunteers ensure VALOR’s success and are working on another transitional house called Kevin’s House for homeless veterans in Ohio. They hope to see VALOR and its houses in every state one day.
Homeless veterans are sought out by volunteers who comb through homeless encampments and woods to find them, and if they are willing and pass the vetting process, they are welcomed into Paul’s House.
Sullivan recently picked up a homeless vet in Emmaus who was living on the street a long time, all over the country. He took him to Paul’s House and before he left, Sullivan said he heard the man say, “this can’t be real.” Other homeless sanctuaries the man had seen were anything but a sanctuary, but this one was indeed the real deal.
Veterans eligible to stay in Paul’s House must have been honorably discharged and be without felony convictions and any active addiction. If there is an addiction to deal with, Sullivan said VALOR will get them enrolled in detox. The house can accommodate 13 veterans at a time, but it also serves as VALOR headquarters — a place to store, sort and drop off donations.
Since 2014, Sullivan said, 59 homeless veterans have passed through its doors. Out of those 59, 55 are still housed there. They stay for a variable amount of time, and while there will get help for medical needs and veterans assistance or disability.
They are taught life skills, social skills and computers and are able to seek out employment. Once they are capable to leave, VALOR helps find them housing and furnishes living space for them, he said.
If they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, they get involved in VALOR’s Veterans Unstoppable program, developed for treating PTSD. It’s not just for homeless veterans but for those with shelter. “It’s the silent epidemic,” Sullivan said.
First responders also are welcome in the program.
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