SPRING HILL–Florida has one of the highest homeless-veteran population in the country with an estimated 2,500 veterans daily battling life on the streets, and a Florida Baptist church is doing its part in waging war on this fight.
Last month, more than 30 members of Faith Community Church in Spring Hill participated in Operation Stand Down, connecting their community’s homeless and at-risk veterans with the resources they so desperately need. Operation Stand Down is a grassroots, community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 38,000 veterans “combat” life on the streets.
The original Stand Down for homeless veterans was modeled after the Stand Down concept used during the Vietnam War to provide a safe retreat for units returning from combat operations. At secure base camp areas, troops were able to take care of personal hygiene, retrieve clean uniforms, enjoy warm meals, receive medical and dental care, mail and receive letters, and enjoy the camaraderie of friends in a safe environment. Stand Down afforded battle-weary soldiers the opportunity to renew their spirit, health and overall sense of well-being.
Such was the purpose of the Pasco County Stand Down, held Oct. 22-23 at the Concourse Rotary Pavilion in Shady Hills. The annual, two-day event drew 206 area veterans, providing direct services; ensuring veterans are receiving benefits entitled to them; and providing referrals to veterans struggling with mental health, employment, housing and addiction issues.
Free direct services included notary services; job fair; haircuts, showers and clothing; medical and dental assistances; housing vouchers and personal hygiene kits, among others. Transportation to and from the Stand Down event was provided, at no charge, for veterans from Hernando, Hillsboro, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Free sleeping arrangements and meals were also made available.
Most of the Faith Community Church volunteers checked-in and registered patients for dental services and administered blood-pressure checks, while others provided haircuts and spiritual guidance. The church group distributed “The Gospel of John” scriptures to each veteran, as well.
Keith Trout served as Faith Community Church’s event coordinator, recruiting volunteers and supervising registration training for the dental clinic. During the two-day event, volunteer dentists examined 62 patients, performing 58 extractions, 19 fillings and 42 dental cleanings. Dental services donated to veterans exceeded $35,000 in value.
“As a church, we wanted to do our part in thanking veterans for their service as well as helping them with needs and services they deserve,” shared Trout, who retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1999 following 26 years of service. “Sometimes vets just need a break and someone to care.
Weddell Keys was one of the 62 dental clinic patients. Expressing his appreciation to Trout and other dental volunteers, he said, “I want you all to know that I have never been treated like this in all of my life. It’s overwhelming.”
Another patient noted, “I am truly grateful. Everyone was compassionate, caring and attentive, and treated me like a human being. I felt very blessed.”
Pastor Mike Montesanto said the Stand Down event was an opportunity for the church to continue its “outreach” mindset.
“It is our church’s calling and nature to serve,” shared Montesanto. “We try to model our lives after Christ, helping the less fortune and the weak.”
Faith Community Church members say they plan to continue helping veterans fight the battle of homelessness. They are already planning to be involved in next year’s Pasco Operation Stand Down, set for April 29 – May 1, 2022.