The 5th annual North County San Diego Veterans Stand Down has been moved from mid-February, when it has normally been held, to April 15-18 at Green Oak Ranch in Vista.
The Times-Advocate sat down with Matt Foster of the Escondido chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars to talk about the four-day event.
The sprawling 140 acre Green Oak Ranch, which is owned by Arie de Jong, will once more be the venue for this event, and according to Foster, “You are in a different world,” when you visit. It’s a perfect place for the Stand Down.
The Stand Down will feature the same activities and services that it has in the past. Last year it served 579 veterans with 334 volunteers. The vets received clean clothing, the free service of doctors, optometrists and dentists. They had hot showers every day.
Green Oak Ranch provides breakfast and dinner. “We provide lunch,” said Foster. “This year lunch will be provided by the Vista Elks.”
Of the veterans who attended last year, Foster estimates “at least half are homeless.” He added, “some are couch surfing.”
The North County Veterans Stand Down is chaired by Foster, an Escondido resident and retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant. He explained what “Stand Down” means. “When a unit is in battle and you send it to the rear lines and relative safety that’s called ‘standing down.’ ” The unit is, in effect, coming back “home” to its base “where they can take a shower, get a hot meal and talk to their buddies about their front line losses,” says Foster. “They need that time to process.”
The County of San Diego is helping with the funding and with some of the logistics, and has had the support of former 3rd District Supervisor Kristin Gaspar who made sure it received a $100,000 grant. . One of the main helpers is former USMC Lt. Col. Gary Johnston, Chief Resilience Officer for the County Office of Emergency Services (OES.). The local Elks have also provided many needed donations and services. Dental services are provided by North County Cosmetic & Implant Dentistry.
However, donations are always needed, said Foster. “It’s really amazing how generous the community is. I’m very grateful.” Although it usually takes six months to plan the event, fundraising for it is “a year-round effort.”
The County considers the Stand Down to be an “Essential Service,” so there won’t be any trouble from any law enforcement about staging it.
This is the fifth annual Stand Down. “We’ve actually got it figured out now,” he said. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has imposed some restrictions and challenges on the effort. “We will have to do a COVID-19 plan for the County Health Department. By pushing it back to April we hope to avoid the politics of having it earlier this year.”
Although Matt Foster is the chairman and face of the Stand Down, his wife, Carrie, is director of operations this year. “Carrie worked up to this,” says Foster, who is obviously very proud. “First she ran the showers, and each year moved up the ladder.”
For more information visit www.ncstanddown.org
North County San Diego Veterans Stand Down is a 501(c)3