Hundreds of Long Island veterans made their way to the former New York State Armory in Freeport to pick up turkeys, other food and essentials at the 32nd annual Veterans Winter Stand Down on Tuesday.
The Nassau Veterans Service Agency runs the event, which is held in the summer in Elmont and the winter in Freeport.
Despite Covid-19 upticks in the county, VSA Director Ralph Esposito and County Executive Laura Curran said the Stand Down needed to happen to ensure that veterans in need were cared for this winter.
“My team and I have worked for over a month in setting up the Stand Down to make it as safe as possible,” said Esposito, a Navy veteran. “My volunteers aren’t afraid of Covid, because we’re here to take care of our fellow veterans.”
“Many of our veterans are in that vulnerable population to Covid, as are our volunteers,” Curran added. “Their safety is our priority as we made this ‘pandemic pivot’ at the Stand Down.”
Unlike previous years, the event, like so many others this year, followed a drive-through, pick-up format, in the interest of preventing crowding inside the armory. Only volunteers were allowed in the building. Freeport police were on hand, directing traffic on Babylon Turnpike to allow cars in and out of the armory.
Volunteers greeted veterans, who stayed in their vehicles, and brought over packages of non-perishable food, winter jackets, boots, underwear and toiletries. Frozen turkeys were also distributed to help veterans and their families celebrate Thanksgiving.
The Rev. Danilo Archbold, pastor of the New Jerusalem Cathedral in Elmont, donated about 350 coats to the Stand Down to help his fellow veterans. “I’m proud to donate these jackets,” Archbold said. “It means a lot to give back those who are truly in need.”
Those without vehicles were served at the armory’s front entrance.
Among those volunteering at the Stand Down was Mayor Robert Kennedy, a Navy veteran. “It’s an honor to still be able to host the program this year in Freeport,” Kennedy said. “The pandemic has caused greater need in our communities, so this is a great opportunity.”
During past Stand Downs, however, the VSA invited organizations and businesses that serve veterans to help connect them with housing, food, health care and employment, as needed.
Many veterans had their hair cut and teeth cleaned during past Stand Downs, but those services were not offered this year because of the pandemic. Despite the change, Esposito said the VSA is still helping veterans with these services.
Since the pandemic hit Nassau in March, Esposito and his team have worked to overcome the new challenges posed to the VSA, such converting the food pantry to a drive-through pantry to allow veterans to pick up their food with minimal contact.
The VSA also ramped up its transportation services to help drive veterans to their doctor appointments, and it offers virtual counseling for veterans.
“The VSA has done an amazing job during the pandemic,” Curran said. “They’re dedicated to each and every one of our vets.”
“If a vet ever needs anything, they can call our office, 24/7,” Esposito added.
To contact the VSA and learn about the programs available for veterans, call (516) 572-6565, or visit nassaucountyny.gov/1945/Veterans-Service-Agency.