Veterans News

A Colonie of Support

For the past 22 years, Lou Minion, member of Colonie, N.Y., Lodge No. 2192, has made it a personal mission to reach out to homeless veterans in his community. Along the way, he’s helped hundreds of veterans and built a tradition that involves the whole community.

Minion, a Vietnam Veteran, remembers hearing about the first Stand Down for homeless veterans, held in San Diego in 1998. It was created to provide respite for homeless veterans, and to centralize access to many of the resources they needed access to. A few years later, Minion and a friend decided to take the idea and put it into action to serve homeless veterans in New York state.

“Years ago, 1993, Harry Pretzman, a fellow Vietnam Veteran, and myself decided it would be a good thing to do,” says Minion. “We got in contact with a fellow, Robert Van Keuren, who planned the original one in San Diego. To our surprise, he was working at the VA in New York. He told us the intricacies of putting one on, and with that we put it together.”

Putting it together was no small feat. It takes volunteers, money, food, donations, and plenty of time to organize a Stand Down. But Minion and Pretzman were undeterred.

“We built it, Harry and I, and we said we want the community to be a part of this thing. The first one we put on, it was hard to get volunteers,” explains Minion. “But then the supermarkets provided us with all the groceries and the food. We got the meat and supplies donated. We did the whole thing for $2,000, which was also donated.”

They were determined to make the event happen. “We thought, if we can’t get the money from outside sources, we’re going to reach into our pocket,” recalled Minion.

“You don't leave anybody outside the wire. If you've got wounded outside the wire, you go get them, regardless of the cost."
- Stand Down Founders, Robert Van Keuren and Dr. Jon Nachison

Nearly 400 homeless and at-risk veterans attended that first Stand Down, and the success of the event inspired all involved to make it an annual affair. Minion and Pretzman continued to be an integral part of the project year after year, bringing people together to serve at the event. As members of Colonie Lodge, Minion and Pretzman made sure the Elks were involved. In 2001, the location of the Stand Down was changed to the Lodge, and Elks started to play an even bigger role in the event.

This past year was no different, as hundreds of veterans came to the Colonie Lodge for food, clothing, resources, housing and employment assistance, and camaraderie. The local news covered the event, filming some of the veterans who showed up seeking support and the volunteers who helped make the event happen.

Like always, the focus of the whole project remains on the veterans. “The whole key is to get the homeless people off the streets and get them housing,” Minion stresses. “And then of course, getting them employment, healthcare, everything they need to stay housed.”

Thanks to the Elks, many of these veterans are one step closer to all of those things.

Read more and view a video about this year's event here.


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