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The Elks Stand Up to End Veteran Homelessness

by Taylor Odisho
Communications Assistant

Elks headquarters staff smile while distributing thermal clothing.
Hundreds of volunteers and sponsors bustled around the Illinois National Guard Northwest Armory in Chicago, preparing for the rush of homeless veterans. The line for the winter Standdown went well past the front doors, and since it was the middle of November, everyone rushed to get people through the doors and out of the cold.

A group of Elks Headquarter staff and Elks scholars lined up to help veterans collect winter boots, thermal clothing, toiletries, shelf-stable food and more.

Before veterans headed down the line, they were given a small, white envelope—thank-you notes written by local students. When some veterans opened their cards, they quickly disguised their misty eyes with a smile, and gently placed the letter in a place for safekeeping.

A veteran named Mike who helped organize the event shared his gratitude for the volunteers. “You’re going to change a lot of lives today and make people really happy,” he promised.

Sometimes, the veterans had us
guess their clothing size.
People like Marine veteran Simon H. Garcia, who served in the Vietnam War, who thanked every volunteer with a smile and well wishes for the holidays. He’d occasionally lean in to ask for an extra shirt or pair of socks, noting how much his wife needed it as well.

Events like the Standdown not only help veterans in need, but also their families. The people who miss the veterans while they’re away and are there to support them when they return. Garcia also grabbed a small, pink shirt. “My niece would like this.”

At the end of the line, it was time to pick out a new coat. Earlier, Garcia had shared his disdain for the Cubs when he saw a volunteer wearing a World Series shirt, so the White Sox jacket in the middle of one rack was like a magnet.

Garcia took the jacket right off the hanger, held it up and grinned. “This is the one!”

Many veterans shared stories
while collecting their items.
After veterans gathered their supplies, picked out new coats and even got free haircuts provided by a local barbershop, it was time for a hot lunch.

“I started attending them four years ago when I found out about it through the V.A.,” Garcia shared. “At the time, I wasn’t homeless, but if my brother hadn’t accepted me into his home, I would’ve been.”

Garcia choked up.

“I never got this kind of help before, and when I think about it, it makes me break down.”

At the end of the day, Mike, the organizer, was right. With gratitude in their eyes, hundreds of veterans thanked the volunteers for taking a few hours out of their day to help them prepare for winter. These volunteers were quick to point out that it was the least they could do to thank the vets for their service.


The Elks National Foundation ensures our veterans are never forgotten. In 2017-18, the ENF granted $1.5 million to serve veterans through the Elks National Veterans Service Commission, and pledged $1 million to help the commission end veteran homelessness. For more information about the Veterans Service Commission, visit elks.org/vets.  

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