By Jenée Alston, AmeriCorps member serving the American Red Cross NW Region
What was the take away from the recent Seattle Stand Down, held December 17-18 at Seattle Central Community College in the Capitol Hill neighborhood?
There is an overwhelming need among US veterans who have found themselves living on the streets of our city. And it is amazing what we can accomplish as one Red Cross!
What is a Stand Down? I didn’t truly know until I offered to assist with one. What I discovered is an amazing array of community partners, joining forces to provide homeless veterans with meals, clothing and outreach for direct client services to assist with housing, emotional support and mental health, and more! Our team helped serve a hot meal from Fare Start, others brought home-baked cookies and snacks, clothing, backpacks, there were even comfort dogs to greet everyone at the door.
I joined Red Cross as an AmeriCorps member in the fall. It was fitting that I assist the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) team, who regularly collaborate in Stand Downs. My dad is a vet. I spent my youth moving around the country, as he moved from station to station: Virgina, Georgia, Tennessee, Arizona and—finally—Olympia, Washington. My mom is also involved with the military as the veterans outreach coordinator for South Puget Sound Community College.
While I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Stand Down, I was overwhelmed by the appreciation for the role of the Red Cross in this event. I sat in the area that was dedicated to female vets, offering comfort kits. I heard a lot of stories and I gathered that there is a lot of interest in what the Red Cross does to assist vets and members of the military. The women’s section was complete with clothing, backpacks, shoes, even purses and belts as well as clothing and shoes for children. It was an interesting place to be, I wondered if women came to mind when people thoughts of homeless vets?
At the end of the busy two-day event, we distributed over 200 hygiene comfort kits and Holiday Mail for Heroes cards from the Girl Scouts. Our Disaster Services team fed and cared for our homeless veterans for two days. Our Volunteer Services were wonderfully effective in finding the best of our community and who have a desire to serve; I was lucky to meet a number of Red Crossers as a result. We also were able to share our story and work with a number of our supporters, and a wonderful opportunity to highlight one of the many ways we are filling gaps in our community to make it stronger.