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Stand Down event helps veterans, their families

US Army Veteran Roy Wilkershelps serve food other veterans 3rd Annual NW IndianStDown Gary Friday August 8th Jim Karczewski/for Sun-Times

US Army Veteran Roy Wilkerson helps serve food to other veterans at the 3rd Annual NW Indiana Stand Down in Gary on Friday August 8th, Jim Karczewski/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 10, 2014 6:03AM



GARY — Richard Delfino worked his way around the Indiana Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility checking out the different social service agencies and grabbing a free lunch.

But it was the camaraderie, the sense of shared experience with other veterans, that brought the Portage man — who is totally disabled and uses a prosthetic from his right knee down — to the third annual Northwest Indiana Stand Down on Friday.

“When you’re here, you can talk to other people who know what you went through, who can understand in a way that civilians can’t,” Delfino said. “I like the services they offer, but here people get it.”

Stand Down, organized by From Boots to Books, a Purdue University-Calumet program, the Northwest Indiana Veterans Action Council and others, offered social services, help with getting ID cards from the Indiana Department of Motor Vehicles or military IDs from the Veterans Administration.

About half of the roughly 400 veterans who attended the event from Indiana and Chicago also got duffel bags stuffed with warm jacket liners, wool socks, sleeping bags, shaving equipment and more.

It’s the kind of practical stuff many of them needed, said Akili Shakur, one of Stand Down’s chief organizers and head of the PUC program.

“These are practical things our vets need,” she said. “And many of them need help with different services or if they’re homeless or can’t find work. This is reaching out to them to try to help them, but it’s also important they have that sense of camaraderie, of being with other people like them.”

Tables lined the walls of different rooms at the facility. The American Red Cross, WorkOne and several area colleges shared space with Veterans Life Changing Services and the Jesse Brown Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Standard Bank also was a large sponsor, providing camouflage T-shirts for volunteers, including some who said they felt great feeding breakfast and lunch to people who may have had their only meals for days.

Carlos Villareal, of Hobart, suffered traumatic brain injury while serving as a Marine and also deals with post-traumatic stress disorder. With his eight-year-old twin boys eating fried chicken and mashed potatoes nearby, Villareal, who also is on disability, said he struggled to come to grips with the effects of injuries he suffered while serving his country.

“People here, they know what you’re going through, they even reach out to my sons and ask about the family,” he said. “I came here to support other vets, but they also have different services they offer to us.”



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