The Santa Barbara County Veterans Stand Down — an annual event that brings together donations and service providers from across the region for local veterans in need — will return to Santa Maria as an in-person event on Oct. 16. 

Although a drive-though event was held last year, this year will be the first in-person Stand Down since the coronavirus pandemic began. 

"I think the fact that veterans got used to it, and when you have to take it away, the drive-through event just wasn’t the same," said Steve Lavagnino, 5th District supervisor and one of the Stand Down's organizers. "It’s not what everybody’s used to." 

The Stand Down will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Santa Maria Fairpark, located at 937 S. Thornburg St. 

The event was started in 2011 and organizes more than 100 local providers for social services, including nonprofits, to pool resources for homeless and at-risk veterans, such as hot meals, haircuts, clothing and medical treatment.

Each year since its inception, the list of service providers and public interest in the Stand Down has continued to grow, despite a diminished event in 2020, according to Lavagnino. 

This year will include coronavirus testing and vaccinations for anyone who needs a shot, he added. 

Because it's the first in-person Stand Down since the pandemic started, Lavagnino said it will be significantly different because safety protocols will be in place, such as social distancing and mask requirements. 

Two of the Fairpark's buildings were used in previous years, one to house the booths for service providers and one that stores items that are given to veterans. This year, service providers have the option to station their booths outside as a matter of safety. Lavagnino is also asking that they bring only the necessary amount of personnel to staff the booths in order to properly socially distance. 

Volunteer barbers and stylists still are needed for the event. Anyone who wants to volunteer is asked to email volunteer@sbcountystanddown.com for more information.

"I’ve never had a veteran show up that came in with a need that we weren't able to fill at the end of the day," Lavagnino said. 

Several new service providers will be appearing this year, including Narcotics Anonymous, Grand Canyon University, Robert Tolan Veterans Lending Group and several veterans groups from throughout San Luis Obispo County, according to Lavagnino. 

Those who want to donate to the Stand Down are asked to visit the www.sbcountystanddown.com website and follow directions to select items from walmart.com to have them delivered directly to the Fairpark. 

Stand Down volunteers will also be available at a drive-through donation center throughout September and October at the Santa Maria Fairpark. The site at the small livestock barn (enter at Gate 5, on West Stowell Street and Depot Street) will be open from noon to 2 p.m. on Sept. 22, Sept. 29, Oct. 6 and Oct. 13. A collection in Lompoc will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 2-3 at Walmart, 701 W. Central Ave.

New items, such as towels, underwear, socks and shirts, are greatly needed, according to Lavagnino.

Free transportation courtesy of the Chumash Casino will be provided for veterans, with bus pick-ups in Santa Barbara, Isla Vista, Solvang, Buellton and Lompoc. Schedules are online at www.SBCountyStandDown.com. New this year will be a free shuttle service to the Stand Down from San Luis Obispo County, courtesy of San Luis Obispo Veterans Services Collaborative and Ride-On Transportation.

Shuttle sites will be located in Paso Robles, Atascadero, Los Osos, San Luis Obispo and Grover Beach. Times and addresses are under the transportation tab at www.SBCountyStandDown.com.

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