Upstate turns out for homeless veterans

lee.healy@shj.comOctober 18, 2012 

Veteran C.J. Ball said he felt like a “brand new person” after traveling to the Spartanburg Expo Center on Thursday for the area’s first Upstate Stand Down event.

Ball, 50, who is homeless in Greenville County, got a haircut and ate a hot meal. He had his vision checked, got a flu shot and had an overall medical screening.

“It’s a good pick-up,” said Ball, who served in the U.S. Army. “It’s very helpful. Very helpful people.” Ball was one of more than 200 veterans to participate in the event, which aimed to meet essential needs of all Upstate veterans and their families, particularly those who are homeless or facing homelessness in Spartanburg, Cherokee, Union and Greenville counties.

All participants were offered medical screenings and checked in with social services. They also had the option to take a shower, get a hair cut, pick out clothing, speak to a chaplain and get information about employment opportunities, among other free services.

Inman resident Craig Burnette acted as assistant coordinator of Upstate Stand Down, which was hosted by Operation Restoration, a Spartanburg faith-based nonprofit. Burnette served in the U.S. Army as an infantry platoon leader and has since helped organize similar events in other parts of the country. He called Spartanburg’s first attempt a success.

“I’ve seen this in other venues and other places, but for an event to come off this smoothly and this well-attended is phenomenal,” Burnette said. “I was so excited to watch all this happen. People pitched in with all their talents.”

Maxie Miller, who works with Spartanburg Community College’s culinary arts program, called Burnette to offer his help after hearing about the event. Miller is a 22-year Air Force veteran and said he was honored to prepare and serve food to so many of the Upstate’s veterans.

“It’s touching,” Miller said. “Some of the guys going through the line made a path for me.”

Ricky Rogers, an Army veteran, took one of the provided shuttles to make it from his home in Gaffney to the Expo Center in Spartanburg. He got a flu shot, had his blood pressure checked and got something to eat. “I wanted to take advantage of some of the veterans’ benefits. I feel like we should get them,” Rogers said. “I think a lot of veterans, you could say they’re doing OK, but it’s still something they deserve.”

Burnette said that after seeing the response, he hopes to see Upstate Stand Down expand and grow. “We did not touch everybody by any means,” he said. “That’s why you expand on it. There is a great need in our community, and this is the example of that.”

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