My first thought when writing about this experience was, “how can I even begin to put it into words?” Operation Stand Down Rhode Island is an amazing organization that provides various services to homeless and at-risk veterans. Their motto is that they give a “hand up, not a hand out.” Our Literature of War class spent most of the school day Friday, September 18 volunteering at their 23rd annual Stand Down weekend at Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland. The event provides legal, medical, financial, housing and general life services to veterans who spend the weekend in tents at the park. When we got there we split up into two groups. My group went to the clothing tent. We helped sort and organize different clothing and then also helped some veterans find the correct size or style that they were looking for. The veterans got a blue athletic bag to fill with whatever they needed from the tent. There are so many veterans in need that that they could only take as many items of clothing that would fit in their small bag. Seeing that really enlightened me that it is not just a couple dozen people in need in our state, it is hundreds.
Luis and I (photo above) got the best job possible, passing out cookies during lunch… we were definitely the favorites of the group! One group helped pass out various drinks and water, and another group helped maintain the trash cans so we weren’t leaving a mess in the park. To see these men and women smiling and saying thank you to me for handing them a cookie was so touching; they are the ones who need to be thanked for their service to our country.
For me personally though, the most touching experience of the whole day, the time when it really hit me, was during the formal Opening Ceremony, when a group performed the Fallen Soldier Ceremony. My eyes starting tearing up seeing the American Flag, helmet, boots, gun, and dog tags of soldiers who gave their lives for this country all in the shadow of the flagpole, upon which flew the American flag, the OSDRI flag, and a flag commemorating POWs. But the real tearjerker was when the family members of those fallen soldiers were recognized. Families have to deal with the loss of a loved one every day and it was amazing to see a community of strangers comforting and honoring them. Seeing all of those people in a group with sad faces engraved in my head that freedom is not free. There are brave men and women who have died in order to protect our rights and freedoms that come with being a United States citizen.