Springfield VFW Post 3404 hosts pre-Thanksgiving event for at-risk veterans and homeless population

Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 6:39 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - On Thanksgiving Eve several local groups offered food and supplies to the homeless and at-risk veterans at a VFW Post on Springfield’s north side in an event some described as life-changing.

Organized and hosted by VFW Post 3404 and the Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, the one-day event featured everything from music to food to haircuts with 29 community service and resource providers on hand to offer a variety of aid.

“We’ve got housing resources,” said Jessica McCowan, the Catholic Charities Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Manager. “Plus education, medical, dental and vision resources. And the VA is even here today providing vaccinations.”

The event was geared towards all age groups from the newer vets to those dating back to World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

“The older ones may be facing income needs because they’re at social security age,” McCowan explained. “But we also have veterans coming in who might be single parents facing a crisis.”

And it’s not just about helping with physical needs. It’s also about providing coping skills in aiding vets reintegrate back into society after their time in the service is over.

“That culture shock is a big thing that people don’t factor into it,” said Stephanie Appleby, the Executive Director for NAMI of Southwest Missouri, which provides programs and services to individuals and families impacted by mental illness. “So getting veterans together with their peers really makes them feel like they’re back into a safe place where they are feeling understood.”

“I’m here for clothing, food and camaraderie,” said Air Force veteran Don Haden, who moved to Springfield from Florida over a decade ago. “I went through homelessness but things are getting better now. The programs you have here in Springfield for homeless veterans are phenomenal.”

Haden admitted though that there are major challenges many vets face when they first come back home after a tour of duty.

“The two biggest things are depression and anxiety,” he said. “It’s hard to get back in and fit the mold after you’ve served. So being around others who’ve been through the same thing and trying to uplift them is very important.”

Army vet Cory Griffin was helping serve food at the event. Now a member of VFW Post 3404, he came to Springfield from Texas after his time in the service. Griffin went through hard times as well and had an attitude that many strong-willed soldiers deal with when they realize they could use a helping hand.

“It was very hard for me to ask for help,” he said. “It hurts being prideful. When I came home from Iraq I became a homeless veteran. I ran out of money and had been off my meds for months. I was very distraught and alone, battling my depression. But in my search for help I found out about VFW Post 3404 and I called them. They changed my life completely.”

Griffin is now a member of VFW Post 3404 and was asked what his life might have been like had he not received their guidance.

“I’d be dead,” he answered.

So that’s why events like the one on Wednesday can be such a blessing. It’s because many vets are dealing with challenges and difficulties the general public may not notice or fully understand.

“What we’re seeing in southwest Missouri is veterans living in the woods,” McCowan pointed out. “They’re living in encampments trying to support themselves. Some of them prefer it that way but their need is great and we’re trying to support them.”

“This is so badly needed,” Appleby added. “Having homeless veterans just goes against everything we should be doing as a nation to help these folks who helped us.”

“I want every veterans who comes through that door to have the same redemption I did,” Griffin said.

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