MILITARY

KILLEEN — When going through challenging times often it’s easiest to talk to someone who’s been there.

One retired U.S. Army veteran was well-equipped to be a volunteer at Operation Stand Down last Saturday because he endured seven months of homelessness.

“Now I have a home and I can give back,” said Sam Tamondong. “I want [homeless people] to know the community wants to help.” It was his first time volunteering the charitable project aiming to help anyone in need but especially homeless veterans.

Tamondong said his wife has wanted to volunteer at the Stand Down for a long time. She manned one of the vendor’s tables while he meandered around the room talking with just about everyone.

“We decided to get out here today and do something for our community,” he said. “It’s rewarding to come here and say, ‘I like you and I can relate to you.’ It shows the deep feelings I have for them.”

Operation Stand Down Central Texas provided homeless people with two hot meals, haircuts and shaves, medical and dental screenings, clothes, backpacks and hygiene kits for men and women. More vendors were added to the event Saturday, including work training and free legal services.

El Corral provided breakfast tacos and culinary arts students from Central Texas College cooked and served a balanced meal for lunch. The CTC barber college provided hair cuts and shaves, Fort Hood Dentac helped folks with their teeth and Express ER gave medical exams.

Tamondong said the experience of being homeless “was indescribable.”

“It’s like living in a pit, it’s the saddest thing,” he said. “It’s nowhere anyone should have to be.”

Tamondong remembers what it was like to be served a meal in a soup kitchen.

“It felt good to know that someone cared,” he said.

Now he’s all about giving back. He and his wife bought twenty sleeping bags to donate.

“I feel happy, humble and content today,” Tamondong said. “It’s good to do something positive.”

The services offered at Operation Stand Down were in demand.

“People were already lined up at the door when we got here at 7:30 a.m.,” said Joann Courtland, Operation Stand Down Central Texas director. By the time the doors opened at 9 a.m. she said three vans full of people were waiting.

Courtland said volunteers were prepared to serve 200 people. “We just try to do what we can to help as many people as we can,” she said. The organization helps all homeless people, whether or not they are veterans.

At the last Operation Stand Down in October they served 133 people, 41 percent of whom were veterans, she said.

“We don’t turn anyone away who needs help,” Courtland said.

Courtland said helping homeless veterans hits close to home because she is a veteran and is from a military family. Her husband is still active duty.

“It’s something near and dear to my heart,” she said.

Operation Stand Down is a nationwide charity and its local chapter, Operation Stand Down Central Texas, is based in Copperas Cove.

Courtland said she talked with more than 100 veterans at her first Stand Down almost ten years ago.

“Seeing all the camaraderie and kinship that day and the fact they were homeless just didn’t make sense to me; the two shouldn’t go together,” she said. “They took the time out to serve so they deserve our respect.”

Courtland said many people in the community need help.

“We need to have empathy and compassion to help everybody we can,” Courtland said.

The Stand Down is held bi-annually in April and October by the Copperas Cove-based nonprofit. For more information about helping or donating to the cause, contact Joann Courtland at 254-681-8522 or email: operationstanddowncentraltexas@gmail.com.

Emily Hilley-Sierzchula is reporter for the Killeen Daily Herald. Reach her at emilys@kdhnews.com

Herald reporter

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